President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey on Monday and demanded the NATO ally stop a military incursion in northeast Syria that is rapidly reshaping the battlefield of the world’s deadliest ongoing war.
Trump, who gave what critics say was a de facto green light for Turkey’s assault by ordering U.S. forces away from the conflict area, requested the ceasefire in a call with President Tayyip Erdogan.
“The United States of America simply is not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion in Syria any further. We are calling on Turkey to stand down, end the violence and come to the negotiating table,” Vice President Mike Pence told reporters.
Trump also announced plans to reimpose steel tariffs on Turkey and immediately halt negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal.
The move was quickly criticized as too little, too late by the top Democrat in Congress.
“His announcement of a package of sanctions against Turkey falls very short of reversing that humanitarian disaster,” said U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Turkey aims to neutralize the Kurdish YPG militia, the main element of Washington’s Kurdish-led ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has been a key U.S. ally in dismantling the jihadist “caliphate” set up by Islamic State militants in Syria.
Ankara regards the YPG as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.
Russia-backed Syrian forces on Monday took rapid advantage of the abrupt U.S. retreat in Syria to deploy deep inside territory held by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces south of the Turkish frontier. Washington had announced plans for a full withdrawal from northern Syria less than 24 hours earlier.
Washington’s Kurdish former allies said they invited in the government troops as an emergency step to help fend off the Turkish assault, launched on Wednesday after what the Kurds called a U.S. betrayal.
The Syrian army deployment is a victory for President Bashar al-Assad and his most powerful ally, Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swath of the country that had been beyond their grasp.
They will now face Turkish armed forces along a new front line hundreds of miles (km) long.
Syrian state media reported the army entered Manbij, a town that had been controlled by a militia allied to the Kurds. Earlier, it pushed into Tel Tamer, a town on the strategically important M4 highway that runs east-west around 30 km (19 miles) south of the frontier with Turkey.
State television later showed residents welcoming Syrian forces into the town of Ain Issa, which lies on another part of the highway, hundreds of miles away.
Ain Issa commands the northern approaches to Raqqa, former capital of the Islamic State caliphate, which Kurdish fighters recaptured from the militants two years ago in one of the biggest victories of a U.S.-led campaign.
Much of the M4 skirts the southern fringe of territory where Turkey aims to set up a “safe zone” inside Syria. Turkey said it had seized part of the highway. An official of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said clashes were ongoing.