Speed Reads

Crisis in Syria

Trump and Turkey's Erdogan spoke to smooth tensions. Now the U.S. and Turkey are fighting over what was said.

President Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone Wednesday, and Turkey quickly disputed the White House summary of the conversation. According to the White House, "Trump relayed concerns that escalating violence in Afrin, Syria, risks undercutting our shared goals" in defeating the Islamic State, "urged Turkey to de-escalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties" in its five-day-old assault on U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Afrin, and "urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces." Turkey said the White House was misrepresenting the conversation in significant ways.

"President Trump did not share any 'concerns about escalating violence' with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin," a Turkish official told news organizations, adding that the two leaders' conversation about the Turkish offensive "was limited to an exchange of views." The official also claimed Trump told Erdogan that the U.S. no longer supplied weapons to the Kurdish YPG forces, the primary U.S. ally in Syria and driving ground force behind its anti-ISIS offensive, and pledged to refrain from delivering weapons to the YPG in the future. Turkey calls the YPG a terrorist group, linked to its outlawed Kurdish rebel group the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

On Thursday, Trump's homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, weighed in, suggesting that Turkish troops "remove themselves" from Afrin and said the Turks "ought to be mindful of the potential for escalation as they move into Syria and Afrin." Erdogan has threatened to send Turkish troops further east along the Syrian side of the Turkish border, targeting Kurdish-held areas where U.S. personnel are stationed. It would be a "terrible outcome" if Turkish troops clashed with "the proxy forces that we have all been relying on to defeat ISIS, especially if there are U.S. advisers in the region," Bossert said in Davos, Switzerland. "There could be grave consequences to any miscalculation and escalation."