President Donald Trump promised via Twitter on Sunday that he would "devastate Turkey economically" if it followed through with plans to attack U.S. Kurdish allies in Syria.
Why is Turkey attacking the Kurds?
The Kurds are an ethnic group living in parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Armenia.
Turkey has had trouble with a Kurdish militant group inside its own borders known as the PKK. While the U.S. considers the PKK to be a terrorist group, it differentiates between the PKK and other ethnically Kurdish groups — some of which have proven to be invaluable allies. Turkey makes no such distinction. Instead, it has used the instability caused by the Syrian civil war to launch a series of incursions against Kurdish cities in Syria.
These Turkish attacks have forced Kurdish fighters to abandon the fight against ISIS in order to defend their homes.
In October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to "descend on them [the Kurds] with more comprehensive and effective [strength]."
When Trump announced in December that the U.S. was pulling all its troops out of Syria, he faced criticism from within his own party about what a rapid U.S. withdrawal would mean for the future of the Kurds and the fight against ISIS. Trump's defense secretary, Jim Mattis, quit in protest over the move.
While Turkey initially promised to hold off its assault until U.S. forces had left the area, on Thursday a Turkish official warned that after a certain point Turkey would attack the Kurds whether or not the U.S. had left.
What did Trump say?
In a two-tweet-thread on Sunday, Trump said that the U.S. was starting its "long overdue pullout from Syria," but promised he would "devastate Turkey economically if they hit the Kurds." However, he also warned the Kurds not to "provoke Turkey." He also referenced a 20-mile "safe zone" in his tweets, but did not clarify what this would look like or where it would be located.
What did the Turkish government say?
On Monday, Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, dismissed this warning.
"We have said repeatedly we are not scared of and will not be intimidated by any threats," Cavusoglu said, according to the Guardian. "Strategic partners, allies, do not hold discussions via Twitter, via social media."