Trump backs Turkey and urges end to violence in Idlib
U.S. President Donald Trump, in a call with Turkish President Recep TayyipErdoğan on Feb. 28, backed de-escalation of violence in northwestern Syria and called on the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran to halt their offenses, the White House said.
"Trump reaffirmed his support for Turkey's efforts to de-escalate the situation in northwest Syria and avoid a humanitarian catastrophe," White House spokesman Judd Deere said, following the death of 33 Turkish soldiers in an attack by Russian-backed Syrian forces in Syria's Idlib province.
"The two leaders agreed that the Syrian regime, Russia, and the Iranian regime must halt their offensive before more innocent civilians are killed and displaced," Deere added in the statement.
The Turkish communications directorate earlier said on Twitter the two leaders discussed developments in the region and agreed by phone on the need to take additional steps to deal with the humanitarian drama in Idlib, where nearly 1 million people have been displaced by the latest fighting.
In the meantime, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Feb. 28 that the U.S. is reviewing options to assist Turkey after the deadly attack.
"The United States is engaging with our Turkish Allies and reviewing options to assist Turkey against this aggression as we seek to prevent further Assad regime and Russian brutality and alleviate the humanitarian suffering in Idlib," Pompeo said in a statement.
A senior State Department official told reporters on Feb. 28 that the U.S. is looking urgently to support Ankara with information-sharing and equipment, according to Reuters.
"We're working on ways to support the Turks, again this will not involve military moves by American units," the official told reporters. "As a NATO ally and a major foreign military sales partner, we have various information sharing and equipment relationships with the Turks. We're looking at what we can do on an urgent basis right now to help them."
The State Department official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said the military power of Assad's forces was very reliant on Russia, and that the authorities in Damascus would not have been able to push the Idlib offensive without support and approval from Moscow.
"The overall offensive ... launching a six-division side attack with the specific purpose of driving the refugees into Turkey, the ones that aren't bombed, is something that was coordinated closely with the Russians, would not have occurred, not only without Russian permission but without Russian air power," the official said.
"There is very close coordination of any kind of strategic air and missile strikes," he said. "Whether that was the case this time, I don't know, but we've seen this repeatedly."