US President Donald Trump is set to hold talks at the White House on Wednesday with senior leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives, as a bipartisan group of congressmen prepare to vote on a resolution opposing his decision to withdraw American troops from northeast Syria.
Those invited include the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the chairman and senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees, as well as the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, congressional sources told Reuters news agency late on Tuesday.
According to a White House schedule, the meeting is due to take place at 3pm US Eastern Time on Wednesday (19:00 GMT).
The meeting coincides with growing unease among members of the US Congress, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, about Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from northeastern Syria, creating an opening for a Turkish offensive against US-allied Kurds who helped drive out the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
Turkey’s offensive in Syria: Syrian Kurds flee to northern Iraq
On Tuesday, it was also reported that as the US withdrew its troops, Russian forces allied with Syria immediately filled the vacuum the Americans left, patrolling the line between Turkish and Syrian armies in and around the city of Manbij in Aleppo.
That Russian move only became possible after the Kurds shifted alliances and struck a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, allowing him to deploy troops along the border to stave off Ankara’s military offensive.
Last week, following Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces, Turkey launched an operation against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria.
The Kurds were the top US ally in the fight against ISIL in the region. Turkey considers them a “terrorist group”.
Reversing Trump’s plan
The US House measure now wants a halt to Turkey’s military actions in Syria, and says the US should send humanitarian aid to the embattled Kurds.
It also calls on Trump to produce “a clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat” of ISIL.
Earlier, it was reported that hundreds of suspected ISIL members managed to escape as Turkish troops started shelling northeast Syria.
The House move followed Trump’s decision to impose sanctions on Turkey over the operation in the border area.
“We have always maintained that, while certainly needed, a sanctions package alone is insufficient for reversing this humanitarian disaster,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement introducing the House resolution.
Syrian government forces enter Manbij
In a separate statement, Pelosi said Trump’s “terribly dangerous decision” on Syria, gave the “green light to Turkey to commit this humanitarian disaster on the Kurds, making us an untrustworthy ally.”
An identical bipartisan measure is being introduced in the Senate.
On Tuesday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ruled out a ceasefire, adding that it was “not negative” for the Syrian army to enter Manbij, as long as fighters in the area were cleared.
Trump has come under sharp criticism from members of Congress, including from many in his Republican Party, who view the withdrawal as an abandonment of Kurdish forces and fear what it means for the battle against ISIL.
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a reminder on Tuesday that a veto-proof majority of 70 senators voted earlier this year against such a pullout.
He suggested Trump’s move had created “a power vacuum begging for the meddling influence of Russia”, and leaving Syria open for Iran to advance its reach “unimpeded” towards Israel.
Schumer criticised Trump for scuttling the years of progress he said American and Syrian Kurdish forces had made against ISIL “in one fell, quick, unthought-out swoop”.
Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington DC, said that Trump “seemed pretty shocked” at the bipartisan opposition to his decision.
“He’s getting criticism from across the political spectrum,” she said, adding that the president was dispatching Vice President Mike Pence to Turkey to convince Erdogan to halt the military operation.