Murat Cetinmuhururdar via Reuters
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said President Donald Trump is "fully prepared" to use military forces against Turkey if necessary.
- Pompeo said the administration prefers "peace to war" but that Trump is prepared to respond if military actions are needed.
- This comment came a little over two weeks after Trump's controversial decision to withdraw US troops from northeast Syria, which paved the way for Turkey to invade.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said President Donald Trump is "fully prepared" to take military actions against Turkey in Syria if necessary.
"We prefer peace to war," Pompeo told CNBC. "But in the event that kinetic action or military action is needed, you should know that President Trump is fully prepared to undertake that action."
This comment came a little over two weeks after Trump's controversial decision to withdraw US troops from northeast Syria, which paved the way for Turkey to invade.
If the US attacked Turkey, it would have major implications for the historic NATO alliance.
Russia could benefit from a US attack on Turkey
NATO's core principle, Article 5, is that an attack on one member is an attack on all. An attack from one NATO member on another would therefore put the alliance in a paradoxical situation.
NATO was originally founded at the start of the Cold War to counter the Soviet Union, and its purpose has evolved over time. But it continues to serve as a deterrent to Russian aggression in Europe, particularly after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Hence, if NATO collapsed or if the alliance was put under major strains then it would be advantageous to the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
NATO did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.
Further complicating any potential military action against Turkey by the US is the fact there are roughly 50 nuclear weapons — B61 gravity bombs — that are stored by the US at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. In a break from protocol, Trump seemed to confirm the existence of these weapons last week.
The White House abruptly announced the withdrawal of US forces from northeast Syria on October 6 after a phone call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The move prompted swift criticism in Washington, including rare backlash from congressional Republicans, given it effectively abandoned Kurdish forces who bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS to a Turkish military invasion. Trump was accused of betraying US allies over the move.
The Turkish military incursion has fostered a humanitarian crisis in Syria and there have been reports of war crimes committed against the Kurds. American forces in Syria also came under fire by Turkish artillery two days after the invasion, and some US officials believe this was deliberate.
Turkey has also been accused of using chemical weapons in Syria against civilians. In response to a query on these allegations, a US official in the White House on Friday told Insider: "We've seen these concerning reports and are seeking more information."
The Trump administration has sent a lot of conflicting messages on Syria
Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo traveled to Turkey last week to broker a ceasefire agreement with Erdogan. The so-called ceasefire, a characterization Turkey promptly rejected, effectively involved the US negotiating the surrender of the Kurds.
Following the announcement of the deal, which involved a cessation of hostilities for five days to allow the Kurds to withdraw from the area, there have been reports of ongoing violence in the region that suggest the ceasefire has not been upheld.
The deal expires on Tuesday, but Trump on Monday suggested it could be extended.
The Trump administration has sent mixed signals on its plans in Syria.
Roughly a week after the Pentagon announced the remaining 1,000 US troops in northern Syria would be pulled out in addition to those withdrawn from the northeast part of the country, Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday said the US might leave some troops in eastern Syria to guard oil fields against ISIS as it regroups. Esper also said troops being pulled out of Syria would go to Iraq to counter ISIS there.
Meanwhile, Trump, who has repeatedly and misleadingly claimed ISIS has been totally defeated, has claimed the Syria retreat is part of a broader effort to pull the US out of "endless wars."