Trump Followed His Gut on Syria. Calamity Came Fast.
Trump Followed His Gut on Syria. Calamity Came Fast.Rarely has a presidential decision resulted so immediately in what his own party leaders have described as disastrous consequences for American allies and interests. How this decision happened — springing from an “off-script moment” with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in the generous description of a senior American diplomat — probably will be debated for years by historians, Middle East experts and conspiracy theorists.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — While President Donald Trump insists he's bringing home Americans from "endless wars" in the Mideast, his Pentagon chief says all U.S. troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the American military will continue operations against the Islamic State group.
Turkey agrees to Syria ceasefire: Vice President Mike Pence
Vice President Mike Pence met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey's capital Ankara on Thursday.Pence met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday to push for the ceasefire.
They aren't coming home and the United States isn't leaving the turbulent Middle East, according to current plans outlined by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper before he arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday. The fight in Syria against IS, once spearheaded by American allied Syrian Kurds who have been cast aside by Trump, will be undertaken by U.S. forces, possibly from neighboring Iraq.
Esper did not rule out the idea that U.S. forces would conduct counterterrorism missions from Iraq into Syria. But he told reporters traveling with him that those details will be worked out over time.
Video: Confusion over details of US-brokered cease-fire in Syria as new fighting breaks out (FOX News)
Trump nonetheless tweeted: "USA soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zones. We have secured the Oil. Bringing soldiers home!"
ISIS eyes breakout opportunity as Turkish forces batter Kurds
Terrorist group celebrates prison breaks, expands attacks as foes are beaten back.Despite Thursday’s announced cease-fire, Turkey’s week-old incursion into northeast Syria is already proving to be a propaganda windfall for the extremist group, which in recent months had been making faltering attempts at a comeback in parts of eastern Syria controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the analysts said.
The president declared this past week that Washington had no stake in defending the Kurdish fighters who died by the thousands as America's partners fighting in Syria against IS extremists. Turkey conducted a weeklong offensive into northeastern Syria against the Kurdish fighters before a military pause.
"It's time for us to come home," Trump said, defending his removal of U.S. troops from that part of Syria and praising his decision to send more troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom defend against Iran.
Gallery: Tensions in Syria in pictures (Photo Services)
US military vehicles drive on a road in the town of Tal Tamr on Oct. 20, after pulling out of their base. US forces withdrew from a key base in northern Syria, a monitor said, two days before the end of a US-brokered truce to stem a Turkish attack on Kurdish forces in the region.
A convoy of U.S. armored military vehicles leave Syria on a road to Iraq on Oct. 19, in Sheikhan, Iraq. Refugees fleeing the Turkish incursion into Syria arrived in Northern Iraq since the conflict began, with many saying they paid to be smuggled through the Syrian border.
Turkey-backed Syrian fighters break open the front door of a house at a position that they are holding in the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain on Oct. 19. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fired off a fresh warning today to "crush" Kurdish forces as both sides traded accusations of violating a US-brokered truce deal in northeastern Syria.
Ibrahim Kalin, chief advisor to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, gestures as he talks to The Associated Press in Istanbul, on Oct. 19. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants Syrian government forces to move out of areas near the Turkish border so it can resettle up to 2 million refugees there, Kalin said, adding that Erdogan will raise the issue in talks next week with Syria's ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Government troops have moved in to several locations in northeastern Syria this week, invited by Kurdish-led fighters to protect them from Turkey's invasion.
Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters on an armoured personnel carrier drive to cross the border into Syria, in Akcakale, Turkey, on Oct. 18. Turkish forces appeared to continue shelling the town despite yesterday's announcement, by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, that Turkey had agreed to a ceasefire in its assault on Kurdish-held towns near its border.
People react as the body of a man killed during Turkish shelling in the area surrounding the Syrian Kurdish town of Ras al-Ain arrives at a hospital in the nearby town of Tal Tamr following the announced ceasefire on Oct. 18.
People poses with a Turkish flag while Turkish-backed Syrian fighters move by with armored vehicles from the Northern Syria for a military operation in Sanliurfa, Turkey, on Oct. 18. The USA and Turkey have reached a deal to suspend a Turkish military offensive in northern Syria for 120 hours, demanding Kurdish forces to withdraw from a designated 'safe zone' on the northern border.
Syrian displaced children, who fled violence after the Turkish offensive in Syria, gesture as they get their food from Barzani charity at a refugee camp in Bardarash on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq on Oct. 18.
Vice President Mike Pence talks to members of the media regarding his earlier meeting with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey. Pence says United States and Turkey have agreed Thursday to a cease-fire in Syria.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper, (L), and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley walk to a closed door Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to brief senators on the situation in Syria and the wider region on Oct. 17, in Washington, DC.
A Syrian woman with her children, who were displaced by the Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria, wait to receive a tent and other aid supplies at the Bardarash refugee camp, north of Mosul, Iraq, on Oct. 17.
This picture taken on Oct. 17, from the Turkish side of the border with Syria shows smoke and fire rising from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain during the Turkish offensive against Kurdish groups in northeastern Syria.
A woman covers her face as she stands along the side of a road on the outskirts of the town of Tal Tamr near the Syrian Kurdish town of Ras al-Ain on Oct. 16. Smoke plumes of tire fires billowing in the background are meant to decrease visibility for Turkish warplanes.
An Oct. 9 letter from U.S. President Donald Trump to Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan warning Erdogan about Turkish military policy and the Kurdish people in Syria is seen after being released by the White House in Washington, on Oct. 16.
US Speaker of the House Democrat Nancy Pelosi (R), Senate Minority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer (C), and House Majority Leader Democrat Steny Hoyer (L) deliver remarks to members of the news media outside the West Wing of the White House following a meeting between President Donald J. Trump and Congressional leaders, in Washington, on Oct. 16. Trump met with Congressional leaders to discuss the US withdrawal from Syria.
The U.N.'s special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, left, meets with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, in Damascus, Syria, on Oct. 16. Pedersen said there must be a cessation of hostilities between Turkish troops and Kurdish fighters as the world is "extremely alarmed by the humanitarian consequences of the crisis."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his ruling party legislators at the Parliament, in Ankara, on Oct 16. Erdogan called Wednesday on Syrian Kurdish fighters to leave a designated border area in northeast Syria 'as of tonight' for Turkey to stop its military offensive, defying pressure on him to call a ceasefire and halt its incursion into Syria.
Activists of the organization 'Women Defend Rochava' show the victory sign during a protest against the military operation of Turkey in the Kurdish areas in north-eastern Syria at the Federal press conference (Bundespressekonferenz) during a government's press conference in Berlin, Germany, on Oct. 16.
Face to face, Turkey's president denies claims of war crimes in Syria
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has flatly denied claims that his forces are committing war crimes during the military operation in norther Syria. It follows repeated claims that there were several children injured in a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian border town of Ras al Ain, thought to have involved white phosphorous.It is a claim vociferously denied by Turkey.The president invited a relatively small number of foreign reporters to his Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul - the day after he brokered an agreement with the Americans to end the fighting.
A man look with binoculars from the Turkish side of the border at Ceylanpinar district, in Sanliurfa, smoke rising from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, on the eighth day of Turkey's military operation against Kurdish forces, on Oct. 16.
Mourners attend the funeral of five Syrian Democratic Forces' fighters killed in battles against Turkey-led forces in the flashpoint town of Ras al-Ain along the border, on Oct. 14 in the Syrian Kurdish town of Qamishli.
Locals welcome Syrian regime forces as they arrive at the western entrance of the town of Tal Tamr in the countryside of Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province on Oct. 14.
Esper's comments to reporters traveling with him were the first to specifically lay out where American troops will go as they shift from Syria and what the counter-IS fight could look like. Esper said he has spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift about 1,000 troops from Syria into western Iraq.
America’s Great Betrayal
America’s Great Betrayal
Trump's top aide, asked about the fact that the troops were not coming home as the president claimed they would, said, "Well, they will eventually."
Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told "Fox News Sunday" that "the quickest way to get them out of danger was to get them into Iraq."
As Esper left Washington on Saturday, U.S. troops were continuing to pull out of northern Syria after Turkey's invasion into the border region. Reports of sporadic clashes continued between Turkish-backed fighters and the Syria Kurdish forces despite a five-day cease-fire agreement hammered out Thursday between U.S. and Turkish leaders.
The Turkish military's death toll has risen to seven soldiers since it launched its offensive on Oct. 9.
Trump ordered the bulk of the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria to withdraw after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear in a phone call that his forces were about to invade Syria to push back Kurdish forces that Turkey considers terrorists.
ISIS Reaps Gains of U.S. Pullout From Syria
American forces and their Kurdish-led partners in Syria had been conducting as many as a dozen counterterrorism missions a day against Islamic State militants, officials said. Those same partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces, had also been quietly releasing some Islamic State prisoners and incorporating them into their ranks, in part as a way to keep them under watch. That, too, is now in jeopardy.
The pullout largely abandons America's Kurdish allies who have fought IS alongside U.S. troops for several years. Between 200 and 300 U.S. troops will remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.
Esper said the troops going into Iraq will have two missions.
"One is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-ISIS mission as we sort through the next steps," he said. "Things could change between now and whenever we complete the withdrawal, but that's the game plan right now."
The U.S. currently has more than 5,000 American forces in Iraq, under an agreement between the two countries. The U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq in 2011 when combat operations there ended, but they went back in after IS began to take over large swaths of the country in 2014. The number of American forces in Iraq has remained small due to political sensitivities in the country, after years of what some Iraqis consider U.S. occupation during the war that began in 2003.
'It's clear the US has been sidelined.' Turkey and Russia agree to joint patrols in Syria
Amid a U.S. military withdrawal from Syria, the Trump administration's ability to address the Syria crisis seemed dramatically diminished.WASHINGTON – Russia and Turkey agreed Tuesday to take joint control of a vital strip of territory along the Syria-Turkey border, a victory for Moscow as the U.S. military continued its withdrawal from Syria.
Esper said he will talk with other allies at a NATO meeting in the coming week to discuss the way ahead for the counter-IS mission.
Asked if U.S. special operations forces will conduct unilateral military operations into Syria to go after IS, Esper said that is an option that will be discussed with allies over time.
He said one of his top concerns is what the next phase of the counter-IS missions looks like, "but we have to work through those details." He said that if U.S. forces do go in, they would be protected by American aircraft.
While he acknowledged reports of intermittent fighting despite the cease-fire agreement, he said that overall it "generally seems to be holding. We see a stability of the lines, if you will, on the ground."
He also said that, so far, the Syrian Democratic Forces that partnered with the U.S. to fight IS have maintained control of the prisons in Syria where they are still present. The Turks, he said, have indicated they have control of the IS prisons in their areas.
"I can't assess whether that's true or not without having people on the ground," said Esper.
He added that the U.S. withdrawal will be deliberate and safe, and it will take "weeks not days."
According to a U.S. official, about a couple hundred troops have left Syria so far. The U.S. forces have been largely consolidated in one location in the west and a few locations in the east.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations, said the U.S. military is not closely monitoring the effectiveness of the cease-fire, but is aware of sporadic fighting and violations of the agreement. The official said it will still take a couple of weeks to get forces out of Syria.
Also Sunday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a group of American lawmakers on a visit to Jordan to discuss "the deepening crisis" in Syria.
Jordan's state news agency Petra said that King Abdullah II, in a meeting with the Americans, stressed the importance of safeguarding Syria's territorial integrity and guarantees for the "safe and voluntary" return of refugees.
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