HARTFORD, CT — Just three days after he condemned President Donald Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from northeastern Syria ahead of a planned Turkish invasion of the area, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy is now calling for Republicans to put pressure on Trump to re-evaluate his decision.
“There’s a real limit to what Congress can do here,” Murphy said during a press conference Thursday at the Legislative Office Building. “ … Congress could contemplate passing sanctions against Turkey, but that won’t save the Kurds. That will be far, far too late. What Congress can do is increase the number of refugees that are taken into the United States. We can allot hundreds of millions of new dollars to humanitarian programs in the region. Republicans can use the massive leverage that they have today over President Trump to try to get him to change his mind. It is not too late for the President to take a hard line with Turkey.”
Murphy, in particular, pushed for Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina., and other Republicans who claim to have influence over Trump, to use their leverage and influence on the president instead of “running to pass a sanctions bill” that ultimately Trump may choose not to enforce.
Murphy didn’t mince words in describing the situation that has since caused 60,000 Kurds to flee their homes in northeastern Syria after Turkish forces invaded Wednesday, calling it a nightmare that will have international ramifications for the United States’ efforts to combat terrorism in the Middle East.
“It is unthinkable to me that the President of the United States decided to double-cross the Kurds,” he said. “Promising that we’d get their back and then, as soon as the heat got turned up, abandoning them and leaving them to slaughter by the Turks. … No one in the Middle East is ever going to partner with the United States again after what we have done to the Kurds in Syria. ”
Murphy also said that ISIS will likely regain a stronghold in the region as Kurdish fighters shift their attention away from fighting ISIS and toward protecting themselves against the Turkish offensive — something he expects will only intensify the existing humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Crisis will impact Connecticut residents, others
While Murphy focused on what Congress can and cannot do in response to the Turkish offensive in Syria, he was quick to point out that the crisis will be felt in Connecticut, which boasts a sizable Kurdish community, and all over the United States.
Azad Hamoto, a Kurdish man who now lives in Vernon, said members of his family in Syria are distraught and unsure of what to do or where to go.
“Hundreds of thousands of my people in Afrin, (Syria), fled their homes to some other regions last year … seeking a safe and secure place to stay in,” Hamoto said. “Today, as I’m speaking, the Turkish regime are invading northeastern Syria. Again and again, this is how the story of our lives go. … We were the only ones who were on the ground fighting ISIS … my people are dying right now without any support.”
Hamoto called for Europrean support of Kurdish forces in Syria and also urged his “fellow Americans and those in power to act and stop this massacre that’s happening.”
Hamoto and Murphy were joined Thursday by representatives from two Connecticut organizations that provide aid to refugees and other people affected by disasters and conflicts around the world.
Kate Dischino, vice president of emergency preparedness with Stamford-headquartered Americares, said that since the organization started providing aid in Syria in 2012, more than 220,000 civilians have died and more than 13 million were in need of humanitarian relief. Dischino said that of the 13 million in need of assistance, half remain displaced in Syria and half have fled to surrounding countries.
Will Kneerim, who oversees employment and education services for Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven, said the organization has helped nearly 1,200 refugees resettle in Connecticut since 2016. While not all of those individuals were from Syria, Kneerim said that a majority of the Syrian refugees IRIS has helped resettle have overcome challenges such as post-traumatic stress disorder and have contributed significantly to the local economies and communities of Connecticut over the past three years.
Trump appears unmoved by criticism
Murphy’s press conference followed a tumultuous week in relations between the U.S., Syria and Turkey. The White House’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria was announced late Sunday.
Three days later, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed the launch of a Turkish offensive in Syria via Twitter Wednesday. “Our aim is to destroy the terror corridor which is trying to be established on our southern border and to bring peace and peace to the region,” he tweeted.
The move to withdraw U.S. troops that have protected Kurdish fighters in their battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) since 2014 has drawn criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike. However, outside of calling for sanctions and discussing humanitarian aid, no congressional action has taken place to address the situation.
It remains unclear whether Trump will take any action or might reconsider his decision to withdraw troops. Tweeting Thursday afternoon, the president repeated claims that the U.S. had defeated ISIS before suggesting that the U.S. had three options to addressing the conflict: “Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!”