Turkey begins offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria

Syrians flee shelling by Turkish forces in Ras al Ayn, northeast Syria, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Wednesday the start of a Turkish military operation against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)

U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan is parting with some of his most conservative congressional allies who have assailed President Trump’s decision to remove American troops from Syria, saying the decision aligns with the nation’s security interests.

“I always had deep concerns getting involved in the Syrian civil war in the first place, where you have elements like Russia and Iran taking sides,” Duncan, R-3rd District, said in remarks to the Index-Journal. “ISIS lost its territory in the region in 2018, which begged the question back then — should we be entangled in Syria’s civil war when ISIS has been destroyed?”

Trump on Sunday said American forces in the northeast part of Syria will be pulled out, clearing the way for a Turkish assault and removing support for Kurdish fighters in the region who fought with U.S. troops to eradicate Islamic State insurgents.

The move caught many within Trump’s own party off guard, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who on Thursday introduced a bipartisan measure with Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland that would impose punishing sanctions on Turkey and the administration of President Recep Erdogan if his military continues to attack Syrian targets.

“While the Administration refuses to act against Turkey, I expect strong bipartisan support,” Graham said in a statement announcing the sanctions. “Most Members of Congress believe it would be wrong to abandon the Kurds who have been strong allies against ISIS.”

Among the penalties his bill would impose are:

• A prohibition of U.S. military assistance to Turkey, including ammunition sales and transfers

• Visa restrictions on Turkish leadership traveling to the United States

• A report on the net worth and assets of President Erdogan

In December, Duncan told the Index-Journal in an interview that removing 2,000 U.S. forces from Syria was unrelated to the Islamic State’s presence there.

He reiterated that stance on Friday.

“Of course elements of ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism still exist. But what level of U.S. involvement should be present in someone else’s civil war? I’m sympathetic to President Trump’s desire to end U.S. military involvement overseas,” Duncan said.

Contact staff writer Adam Benson at 864-943-5650 or on Twitter @ABensonIJ.