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Trump expands his authority to sanction Turkey amid Syria offensive

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinOn The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears Mnuchin expected to launch investment fund seeking backing from Persian Gulf region: report Larry Kudlow debuts to big ratings on Fox Business Network MORE on Friday announced that President TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE will sign an executive order expanding the administration's ability to impose sanctions on Turkish officials as the president faces growing criticism over his decision to pull U.S. forces out of northern Syria.

Mnuchin said that the executive order does not itself contain new sanctions, but gives Trump the authority to enact them.

“The president is concerned about the ongoing military offensive and potential targeting of civilians, civilian infrastructure, ethnic and religious minorities, and the president wants to make very clear that it is imperative that Turkey not allow even a single ISIS fighter to escape,” Mnuchin told reporters at the White House.

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The new powers will allow the Treasury Department to sanction individuals and entities in Ankara involved in human rights abuses or undermining security in northern Syria.

“These are very powerful sanctions. We hope that we don’t have to use them, but we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to,” Mnuchin told reporters. 

The announcement came a short time after the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperCORRECTED: Overnight Defense: COVID-19 stymies effort to study sexual assault at military academies | Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi report Female generals' promotions held back over fears of Trump's response: report Overnight Defense: Army details new hair and grooming standards | DC National Guard chief says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot | Colorado calls on Biden not to move Space Command MORE urged his counterpart in Ankara to halt this week’s offensive into northern Syria following the removal of U.S. troops.

Friday’s announcement appeared to be an effort from the White House to appease Republicans who have hammered the administration over its handling of the situation in Syria and called for a tough response to Turkey’s military movements.

Trump has been steadfast in his commitment to pulling U.S. forces out of the region. He has further inflamed criticism by downplaying concerns that his shift in strategy could lead to a resurgence of ISIS or a slaughter of Kurdish forces.

Trump said in recent days that he would "obliterate" the Turkish economy if Ankara crossed a line, but he had not laid out any specific examples of what he would consider inappropriate. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is scheduled to visit Washington next month.

Lawmakers in both parties and in both chambers of Congress have shown support for imposing sanctions on Turkey in response to its incursion into northern Syria, which threatens the U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in the region.

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyConservatives go after Cheney for Trump CPAC remarks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help Senate GOP works to avoid having '22 war with Trump MORE (R-Wyo.) plans to introduce sanctions legislation in the coming days, and Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamJohn Boehner tells Cruz to 'go f--- yourself' in unscripted audiobook asides: report Parliamentarian nixes minimum wage hike in coronavirus bill McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenMenendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill LIVE COVERAGE: Senate set to consider Garland for AG Plaskett quips male lawmakers 'would not have their wives in one attempt talking to her' during impeachment trial MORE (D-Md.) announced a deal this week to roll out a similar measure in the Senate.

Trump has come under intense criticism for his decision to pull U.S. forces out of northern Syria. The move was announced abruptly late Sunday and drew swift rebukes from lawmakers.

By Wednesday, Turkish forces had launched an operation into the area, raising alarms among U.S. officials about the fate of the Kurds.

The U.S. military relied on the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is led by the Kurds, as the local ground force fighting ISIS. But Ankara considers the Syrian Kurds terrorists who are an extension of a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

Trump has defended his decision amid the backlash, downplaying the U.S. alliance with the Kurds by asserting that they were only assisting in the fight against ISIS to protect their own territory. 

"The Kurds are fighting for their land," Trump told reporters on Wednesday.

"And as somebody wrote in a very, very powerful article today, they didn’t help us in the second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy as an example. They mentioned names of different battles. But they’re there to help us with their land and that’s a different thing," he continued.