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Turkey Prepares for Military Operation as US Troops Start Leaving Syria

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  • The Trump administration announced Sunday that it would be stepping aside to let Turkey launch a military operation against Kurdish forces in Syria.
  • Many condemned the move and argued that the U.S. was clearly abandoning U.S.-backed Kurdish forces that have been on the frontlines fighting against ISIS alongside U.S. troops in the region.
  • On Monday, U.S. officials confirmed that troops in Syria were already being removed following the announcement.

White House Announcement

U.S. troops began withdrawing from Syria on Monday, following a controversial announcement by the White House a day prior that U.S. forces will stand aside as Turkey launches a military offensive in Northern Syria.

The statement, made by White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, followed a phone call between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” the statement said. “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”

The statement went on to say that the U.S. has “pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused.”

“The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” it continued. “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial ‘Caliphate’ by the United States.”

It is unclear from that statement whether or not all of the nearly 1,000 troops in the region will be removed. What is clear is that the announcement comes as a major shift in U.S. policy in the region that many on both sides of the aisle oppose.

U.S. Kurdish Allies

The announcement comes as a clear sign that the U.S. is abandoning its main ally in the fight against ISIS: Kurdish forces near the Syrian border.

U.S. forces on the ground in Syria have recruited and trained the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces for years. Those forces have done the majority of fighting on the ground against ISIS fighters.

That is also not all they have done. Despite the claim in the White House’s statement that the U.S. is holding captured ISIS fighters at the taxpayer’s expense, it is actually Kurdish forces, and not the U.S., that have kept ISIS fighters and their family members in makeshift camps in Northern Syria.

For a while, Erdogan has been critical of the U.S.’s alliance with the Kurdish forces. Turkey has a separatist movement near its border with Syria made of Kurds, called the PKK. Turkey claims that the YPG and PKK are allied and considers them both terrorists.

The Turkish operation is geared to use military force to clear “terrorists” east of the Euphrates river, a region controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces and YPG.

When Turkey says it is going to target terrorists east of the Euphrates River, many believe it is a clear message that they plan to remove Kurdish forces from their borders.

Response

Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have also warned that allowing Turkey to go forward with a military operation will send a bad message about U.S. commitment to its allies.

But any bloodshed and damage a Turkish military operation against the Kurds in Syria will bring is not the only concern for the U.S.

Sunday’s announcement reportedly also goes against the recommendations of top U.S. officials in the Pentagon and the State Department.

Military officials have also argued that the U.S. needs the Kurdish forces to fight against an ISIS resurgence, as well as to guard the facilities where ISIS militants and their families are being held.

Those concerns were echoed in a series of tweets from the SDF on Sunday, where the group argued that a Turkish attack would “Reverse the successful effort to defeat #ISIS, where #SDF sacrificed 11K martyrs.”

The SDF also said that the move will lead to “The return of leaders of #ISIS” and that ISIS would break out the nearly 12,000 prisoners held by Kurdish forces.

A great number of prominent lawmakers, including some of Trump’s main allies, also responded to Trump, condemning the move.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wrote a laundry list of tweets Monday criticizing the move, calling it a “disaster in the making,” and claiming it “will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds.”

“If this plan goes forward will introduce Senate resolution opposing and asking for reversal of this decision,”  he wrote. “Expect it will receive strong bipartisan support.”

“By abandoning the Kurds we have sent the most dangerous signal possible – America is an unreliable ally and it’s just a matter of time before China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea act out in dangerous ways,” he later added.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also responded while speaking Fox News.

“I want to make sure we keep our word for those who fight with us and help us,” he said. “If you make a commitment and somebody is fighting with you, America should keep their word.”

Speaker of the House Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also spoke out against the president’s efforts.

“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup,” he said in a statement. “American interests are best served by leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal.”

Trump Defends Himself

Trump still defended his decision on Twitter.

“When I arrived in Washington, ISIS was running rampant in the area. We quickly defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate,” he wrote, before going on to say that Europe has refused to take back captured ISIS fighters the U.S. is holding. “As usual, that the U.S. is always the “sucker,” on NATO, on Trade, on everything.”

 “The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades,” he continued. “It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.”

“Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their ‘neighborhood,’” he added. “They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!”

Withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria was a big campaign promise of Trump’s. In December 2018, the president made a sudden announcement that ISIS had been defeated and that he was withdrawing all military personnel from Syria.

That decision received significant backlash from both Democrats and Republicans, as well as military and foreign policy personnel in the Trump Administration. 

However both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence doubled-down on the claim that ISIS was defeated in the region, even after Islamic State agents took responsibility for a suicide bombing in January, that left 19 people, including four Americans, dead in a U.S.-controlled city in Syria.

Toward the end of February, the Trump administration made a significant reversal and announced that it would leave about 400 troops in the region. In early March, several members of Congress wrote Trump a letter urging him to keep troops in Syria. Trump responded to that letter, writing “I agree 100%” 

Now, the administration’s most recent decision seems to be a definitive shift towards troop removal, and critics of the plan appear to have similar precautions as last time Trump made a similar effort.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)

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Jan. 6 Rally Organizers Say They Met With Members of Congress and White House Officials Ahead of Insurrection

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Two sources told Rolling Stone that they participated in “dozens” of meetings with “multiple members of Congress” and top White House aides to plan the rallies that proceeded the Jan. 6 insurrection.


Rolling Stone Report

Members of Congress and White House Staffers under former President Donald Trump allegedly helped plan the Jan. 6 protests that took place outside the U.S. Capitol ahead of the insurrection, according to two sources who spoke to Rolling Stone.

According to a report the outlet published Sunday, the two people, identified only as “a rally organizer” and “a planner,” have both “begun communicating with congressional investigators.”

The two told Rolling Stone that they participated in “dozens” of planning briefings ahead of the protests and said that “multiple members of Congress were intimately involved in planning both Trump’s efforts to overturn his election loss and the Jan. 6 events that turned violent.”

“I remember Marjorie Taylor Greene specifically,” the person identified as a rally organizer said. “I remember talking to probably close to a dozen other members at one point or another or their staffs.”

The two also told Rolling Stone that a number of other Congress members were either personally involved in the conversations or had staffers join, including Representatives Paul Gosar (R-Az.), Lauren Boebert (R-Co.), Mo Brooks (R-Al.), Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), Andy Biggs (R-Az.), and Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.).

The outlet added that it “separately obtained documentary evidence that both sources were in contact with Gosar and Boebert on Jan. 6,” though it did not go into further detail. 

A spokesperson for Greene has denied involvement with planning the protests, but so far, no other members have responded to the report. 

Previous Allegations Against Congressmembers Named

This is not the first time allegations have surfaced concerning the involvement of some of the aforementioned congress members regarding rallies that took place ahead of the riot.

As Rolling Stone noted, Gosar, Greene, and Boebert were all listed as speakers at the “Wild Protest” at the Capitol on Jan. 6, which was arranged by “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander.

Additionally, Alexander said during a now-deleted live stream in January that he personally planned the rally with the help of Gosar, Biggs, and Brooks.

Biggs and Brooks previously denied any involvement in planning the event, though Brooks did speak at a pro-Trump protest on Jan. 6.

Gosar, for his part, has remained quiet for months but tagged Alexander in numerous tweets involving Stop the Steal events leading up to Jan. 6, including one post that appears to be taken at a rally at the Capitol hours before the insurrection.

Notably, the organizer and the planner also told Rolling Stone that Gosar “dangled the possibility of a ‘blanket pardon’ in an unrelated ongoing investigation to encourage them to plan the protests.”

Alleged White House Involvement

Beyond members of Congress, the outlet reported that the sources “also claim they interacted with members of Trump’s team, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who they describe as having had an opportunity to prevent the violence.”

Both reportedly described Meadows “as someone who played a major role in the conversations surrounding the protests.”

The two additionally said Katrina Pierson, who worked for the Trump campaign in both 2016 and 2020, was a key liaison between the organizers of the demonstrations and the White House.

“Katrina was like our go-to girl,” the organizer told the outlet. “She was like our primary advocate.”

According to Rolling Stone, the sources have so far only had informal talks with the House committee investigating the insurrection but are expecting to testify publicly. Both reportedly said they would share “new details about the members’ specific roles” in planning the rallies with congressional investigators.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Business Insider) (Forbes)

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Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena

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The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.


Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.

In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.

Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.

Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee. 

That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.

After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.

Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.

Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts

The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.

It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same. 

The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively —  are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.

Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.

As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.  

Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)

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Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December

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The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.


Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily

The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.

The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.

After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.

The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday. 

The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.

“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.

The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession. 

Major Hurdles Remain

While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.

Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain. 

Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.

Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.

Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.

Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.

Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.

In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul. 

As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported. 

It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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