President Donald Trump has come under increasing pressure, from within and outside his Administration, to take action in response to Turkey's escalating offensive and reports of significant casualties in northern Syria, amid apparent differences of opinion about what should be done.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham yesterday called Trump's decision to pull US troops out of northern Syria "the biggest blunder of his presidency", as the three top Republicans in the House took steps toward sanctioning Turkey over its military offensive against US-allied Kurdish forces.

Graham, one of Trump's strongest defenders, has broken with the President over his sudden decision to withdraw American military, a move that triggered widespread condemnation from Republicans and Democrats.

Turkish forces deepened their offensive against the Kurds yesterday.


Graham ratcheted up the criticism of Trump for his decision and lashed out at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a news conference at The Citadel military college in Charleston, South Carolina.

"The President has abandoned the people who helped us destroy Isis, chaos is unfolding and when I hear the President, 'We're getting out of Syria', my statement to you is this is worse than what Obama did," Graham said, comparing Trump to former President Barack Obama. "When Obama left Iraq, all hell broke loose, and if you think, Mr President, Isis is only a threat to Europe, you really don't understand Isis.

"Isis is wanting to come after all of us. Not just Europeans."

Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Illustration / Rod Emmerson

When a reporter asked if this could become Trump's Vietnam, Graham replied, "No, this is worse."

Trump tweeted: "Some want us to send tens of thousands of soldiers to the area and start a new war all over again. Others say STAY OUT and let the Kurds fight their own battles. I say hit Turkey very hard financially with sanctions if they don't play by the rules."

In a later tweet, echoed in comments to reporters as he departed for a political rally in Minneapolis, Trump altered the set of available options, saying "Send in thousands of troops ... hit Turkey very hard financially ... or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds."

While one senior administration official said that sanctioning Turkey was the leading option, another said that mediation was "the path the President would most prefer to do".

Separately, a senior Trump adviser described the President as indecisive and said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mick Mulvaney, the acting Chief of Staff, had warned him that he was getting "boxed into a complete corner" by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. People discussing the sensitive situation did so on the condition of anonymity.


A second official repeated administration's denials that Trump had given a "green light" to Erdogan to begin attacks against Syrian Kurdish forces. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish group to be one and the same as Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a Turkish group seeking autonomy that has been clashed with Turkey's Government for decades.