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Friday October 18th, 2019 7:44PM

The Latest: Classified briefing on Syria set for Hill staff

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on President Donald Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria (all times local):

1:25 p.m.

The Trump administration will hold a classified briefing on Syria for House and Senate staff Tuesday afternoon, according to congressional aide familiar with the meeting.

Republicans and Democrats have sharply criticized Trump's announcement over the weekend that U.S. troops would step aside for an expected Turkish attack on the Kurds, who have fought alongside Americans for years. Trump then threatened to destroy the Turks' economy if they went too far.

The aide requested anonymity to discuss the top secret-level briefing. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Katie Wheelbarger will lead the meeting, according to the person.

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8:50 p.m.

President Donald Trump is casting his decision to abandon Kurdish fighters in Syria as fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from "endless war" in the Middle East.

But Republican critics and others say he is sacrificing a U.S. ally and undermining American credibility.

Trump has declared U.S. troops will step aside for an expected Turkish attack on the Kurds, who have fought alongside Americans for years. But he has also threatened to destroy the Turks' economy if they go too far.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina calls Trump's action a "shot in the arm to the bad guys."

Pentagon and State Department officials are holding out the possibility of persuading Turkey to abandon its expected invasion.

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4:40 p.m.

President Donald Trump is warning Turkey that there will be "big trouble" if any American personnel in Syria are injured, as Turkey prepares to mount an operation against Kurdish fighters who had been allied with the U.S. against the Islamic State.

Trump is dismissing the suggestion that he is siding with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the American-allied Kurds.

He says, "I'm not siding with anybody."

Trump is also issuing a veiled threat to Turkey to constrain its assault, warning, "If Turkey does anything out of what they should be doing, we'll hit them so hard on the economy."

Trump says he's trying to fulfil a campaign pledge to return American troops home.

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2:25 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is opposing President Donald Trump's plan to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria. It's a rare policy split between the Senate's top Republican and Trump.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is also against Trump's decision. But the California Democrat is using far stronger language than McConnell.

McConnell says an early U.S. withdrawal "would only benefit Russia, Iran" and Syrian President Bashar Assad, who's waged an eight-year civil war against Syrian opposition forces. The Kentucky Republican says it would make it easier for ISIS to rebuild. McConnell says U.S. interests are not well served by "retreat or withdrawal."

Pelosi says a withdrawal is "reckless" and would "betray" Kurds who have helped fight ISIS. She calls it "a foolish attempt to appease an authoritarian strongman" — a seeming reference to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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12:20 p.m.

The Pentagon says it is still trying to talk Turkey out of invading northeastern Syria.

In a written statement Monday, Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said the U.S. does not endorse a Turkish military operation in Syria and will not support it.

Hoffman says Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Mark Milley, told their Turkish counterparts that unilateral military action in the Kurdish area of Syria "creates risks" for Turkey.

Hoffman says the Pentagon will work with allies and coalition partner nations to reiterate to Turkey that its potential military operation in Syria would have "possible destabilizing consequences" for Turkey and for the region.

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12:06 p.m.

President Donald Trump is threatening to destroy the economy of Turkey if it does not watch over captured Islamic State fighters and their families detained in Syria.

In a tweet Monday, Trump said: "If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey."

Trump defended his sudden decision to pull back U.S. troops from northern Syria, clearing the way for an expected Turkish military invasion against Kurdish forces. They were backed by the U.S., but Turkey views them as terrorists and a threat to the country.

Democrats and Republicans warn that a Turkish attack could lead to a massacre of the Kurds, who are holding thousands of captured IS fighters and their families.

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11:20 a.m.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top Republican ally of President Donald Trump, is threatening legislation to impose economic sanctions on Turkey if it invades Syria. Graham has Democratic allies and warned that any congressional vote would be overwhelming.

Trump decided to pull back U.S. troops from northern Syria, clearing the way for an expected Turkish assault and essentially abandoning Kurdish fighters who fought alongside American forces to defeat the Islamic State.

His announcement immediately drew pushback from Republican lawmakers.

Graham said Monday that Trump's moves are a "disaster in the making" that would empower IS and Syria. He said he's already spoken to Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen about drafting the sanctions legislation. Graham said on Twitter that "sanctions against Turkey - if necessary - would be veto-proof."

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney also weighed in, saying Trump's "decision to abandon our Kurd allies in the face of an assault by Turkey is a betrayal."

___

9:20 a.m.

President Donald Trump is defending his decision to pull back U.S. troops from northern Syria, clearing the way for an expected Turkish assault and essentially abandoning Kurdish fighters who fought alongside American forces to defeat the Islamic State.

The move drew immediate outrage from some of the Republican president's closest allies in Congress, with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham calling the decision "a disaster."

Syria's Kurds accuse the U.S. of turning its back on its allies and risking gains made in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Trump defended the move in a series of tweets, acknowledging that "The Kurds fought with us" but claiming they "were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so."

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