Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said this morning during an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation that 1,000 U.S. troops will withdraw from northern Syria as Turkey plans to “extend their attack further south than originally planned, and to the west” in Syria.
Esper also said that in the last 24 hours, the United States had learned that the Syrian Democratic Forces, America’s Kurdish allies in the war on ISIS, “are looking to cut a deal, if you will, with the Syrians and the Russians to counterattack against the Turks in the north.”
“We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies, and it’s a very untenable situation,” Esper said. “So I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria.”
“Despite our protestations, despite the fact that we urged the Turks not to do this, they decided to do it, and we told them that we would not support them militarily in this action,” Esper said.
“So how does that not amount to a retreat?” asked Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan. “You’re saying that the president of the United States, the commander in chief, said ‘don’t do this,’ and then Erdogan said, ‘I am’ and [President Trump] said, ‘Okay, I’m not going to fire back, I’m going to pull back’?”
“I wouldn’t characterize it this way,” Esper replied. “What I’m saying is we did not want to put American forces into harm’s way. We did not want to get involved in a conflict that dates back nearly 200 years between the Turks and the Kurds.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports: “Hundreds of relatives of Islamic State fighters fled a Kurdish-run detention camp on Sunday morning after Turkish airstrikes hit the surrounding area.
Last week, the Trump White House announced that Turkey would be responsible for all ISIS prisoners:
The United States Government 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. 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.
This morning on Face the Nation, Secretary of Defense Esper said that he and other U.S. officials had warned Turkey for weeks that a Turkish invasion of Syria would cause the “likely release of ISIS fighters from these camps and prisons.”
Retired general Jack Keane wrote on Twitter Sunday morning: “Shame: while Kurds are slaughtered US military in full retreat in eastern Syria. Giving up control of airspace enables Turk invasion.”