Trump Orders US Troops To Leave Northern Syria Amid Growing Chaos
Oct. 13, 2019
Amid growing chaos in Syria, the United States appears to be heading towards a full military withdrawal from Syria.
Against fears that Turkey’s invasion could fuel a broader war, Defence Secretary Mark Esper said that US President Donald Trump had directed US troops in northern Syria to begin pulling out “as safely and quickly as possible”.
He did not say Trump ordered troops to leave Syria, but that seemed like the next step in a combat zone growing more unstable by the hour.
Esper, interviewed on two TV news shows, said the administration was considering its options.
“We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies and it’s a very untenable situation,” Esper said.
This seemed likely to herald the end of a five-year effort to partner with Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters to ensure a lasting defeat of the so-called Islamic State group.
Hundreds of IS supporters escaped a holding camp amid clashes between invading Turkish-led forces and Kurdish fighters, and analysts said an IS resurgence seemed more likely, just months after Trump declared the extremists defeated.
The US has had about 1,000 troops in north-eastern Syria allied with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to combat IS.
The Pentagon previously had pulled about 30 of these troops from the Turkish attack zone along the border. With an escalation of violence, a widening of the Turkish incursion and the prospect of a deepening conflict, all US forces along the border will now follow that move.
The Pentagon chief did not say US troops are leaving Syria entirely. The only other US presence in Syria is at Tanf garrison, near Syria’s eastern border with Jordan.
The US and coalition troops there are not involved in the Kurd mission, and so it seems highly unlikely the 1,000 being moved from the north would go to Tanf.
Critics say the US has betrayed the Kurds by pulling back in the face of Turkey’s invasion, but Esper said the administration was left with little choice once President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Trump a week ago that he was going ahead with a military offensive.
Esper said the Kurds have been good partners, “but at the same time, we didn’t sign up to fight the Turks on their behalf”.
The Kurds then turned to the Syrian government and Russia for military assistance, further complicating the battlefield.
The fast-moving developments were a further unravelling of US counter-terrorism efforts in Syria, and they highlighted an extraordinary breakdown in relations between the United States and Turkey, Nato allies for decades.
Turkish troops have often fought alongside American troops, including in the Korean War and in Afghanistan.
Asked whether he thought Turkey would deliberately attack American troops in Syria, Esper said: “I don’t know whether they would or wouldn’t.”
He cited an incident on Friday in which a small number of US troops fell under artillery fire at an observation post in the north.
Esper called that an example of “indiscriminate fire” coming close to Americans, adding it was unclear whether that was an accident.
Esper disputed the notion that the US could have stopped Turkey from invading in the first place. He said Erdogan had made clear he was going to launch his incursion “regardless of what we did”,
Strongly critical of the Turks, Esper said “the arc of their behaviour over the past several years has been terrible”,
He added: “I mean, they are spinning out of the Western orbit, if you will. We see them purchasing Russian arms, cuddling up to President Putin. We see them doing all these things that, frankly, concern us.”
The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, said the US and its Nato partners should consider expelling Turkey from the alliance.
He said: “How do you have a Nato ally who’s in cahoots with the Russians, when the Russians are the adversaries of Nato?”
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