New images show Iran has nearly completed a tunnel in Syria to store missiles and weapons; Trey Yingst has the details.
The $738 billion Pentagon budget passed by Senate lawmakers Tuesday includes tough new sanctions on Syria, Iran and Russia for their alleged war crimes committed during Syria’s nearly decadelong civil war.
The Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act of 2019, passed by the GOP-majority Senate with an 86-6 vote, authorizes sanctions within six months on the Syrian government and anyone else who is “responsible for or complicit in human rights abuses committed against citizens of Syria or their family members.”
FILE: The Pentagon is seen from air from Air Force One. (AP)
The bill applies sanctions to supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military efforts in the country’s civil war, which includes Russia and Iran.
Muna Jondy, a Syrian-American immigration lawyer, told NPR she hopes the sanctions will help curb airstrikes on hospitals and civilian targets.
“Fifty hospitals have been bombed since April 2019,” she said. “There will be financial consequences.”
The bill is named after the code name of a Syrian police officer who documented torture victims in Syria from the outbreak of the war in early 2011 to his defection from the country in 2013.
The bill was immediately proposed after the officer’s testimony before Congress but failed to gather momentum in several previous attempts led, in part, by Rep. Eliot Engel of New York.
“We’ve never had something this strongly passed into law by the Congress,” said Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., one of the original co-sponsors of the Caesar Bill who met with the Syrian defector earlier this year. “[T]here’s no doubt that can have an impact.”
Trump said October 6 that U.S. military forces would withdraw from northern Syria. More recently, he said an unidentified “small” number will stay to “secure the oil.”
Reducing the U.S. presence in Syria raises concerns with voters: 66 percent are worried it might lead to a reemergence of ISIS in the region, and 61 percent are concerned it amounts to the U.S. abandoning Kurdish allies to Turkish aggression.
On the other hand, 52 percent are concerned keeping American military in Syria would leave them in harm’s way without making the U.S. safer.
Fifty-five percent think U.S. national security interests are at stake in Syria, 25 percent disagree, and 20 percent are unsure.
Meanwhile, voters are twice as likely to say the situation with Syria has worsened (50 percent) their opinion of Trump’s presidency rather than improved it (25 percent).
Seventy-three percent of Republicans approve of the job Trump’s doing on Syria, markedly lower than his ratings on the economy (89 percent) and immigration (83 percent).
Sixty-six percent of Republicans think the U.S. should keep troops in Syria and 56 percent say ISIS is not defeated — down from 67 percent in January.
Among Democrats, 73 percent want the U.S. to stay in Syria, 85 percent think ISIS remains, and 87 percent disapprove of Trump on Syria.
Interviews for the poll were conducted Sunday through Wednesday (October 27-30).
Trump announced October 27 that U.S.-led forces had killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi in northern Syria. That successful mission failed to give the president’s job approval a bump: 42 percent approve and 57 percent disapprove. In early October, it was 43-55 percent.
In 2011, approval of former President Barack Obama’s job performance went from 47 percent in April to 55 percent in May, after the raid that killed the much better known Usama bin Laden, and back to 48 percent in June.
Conducted October 27-30, 2019 under the joint direction of Beacon Research (D) and Shaw & Company (R), this Fox News Poll includes interviews with 1,040 randomly chosen registered voters nationwide who spoke with live interviewers on both landlines and cellphones. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for all registered voters.
Former Director of Communications Jonathan Wachtel weighs in on what foreign policy challenges still remain in the Middle East.
House GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., engaged in a new Twitter war Sunday with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., over U.S. military policy overseas amid the death of Islamic State terror leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Paul had tweeted Saturday night: “If you want to stop the endless wars, you actually have to leave. The U.S. guarding oil in Syria will only prolong the war & bring Kurds into conflict with [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad]. Mr. President: don't listen to Lindsey Graham and Chuck Schumer and others who’ve been wrong for so long,” referring to the longtime senators.
That same evening, a largescale U.S. Special Operations forces raid on a compound in northern Syria’s Idlib Province occurred where the terrorist leader was thought to be hiding.
Cheney tweeted Sunday evening in response to Paul’s tweet: “Last night, while @randpaul was advocating withdrawal of our troops, those troops were engaged in a daring raid to kill the ISIS leader. His policy would have left the terrorist al-Baghdadi alive to behead more Americans. We should be proud of our troops and never surrender.”
In an address to the nation on Sunday, President Trump said planning for the raid on al-Baghdadi’s compound began two weeks ago when the U.S. gained unspecified intelligence on al-Baghdadi's whereabouts.
The raid on al-Baghdadi’s compound was a relatively large assault by U.S. forces with a reported eight military helicopters landing in the Barisha area north of Idlib city — near the Turkish border.
Fox News' Ben Florance contributed to this report.
The cease-fire required Kurdish forces formerly allied with the U.S. against ISIS to move out of a roughly 20-mile zone on the Turkish border. With Kurdish forces out of the zone, Turkey will halt its assault, Trump said.
He added the agreement has "saved the lives of many, many Kurds."
President Trump plans to deliver a statement Wednesday morning on Syria, claiming a “big success” even as he faces bipartisan criticism for pulling back U.S. troops.
In a tweet, he previewed an 11 a.m. statement from the White House, touting a “safe zone” along the Turkey-Syria border and a prior cease-fire worked out between the U.S. and Turkey.
The president was optimistic after the initial 120-hour pause in the Turkish military operation there ended, and as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) withdrew from a stretch of territory in northern Syria.
“Ceasefire has held and combat missions have ended. Kurds are safe and have worked very nicely with us,” Trump tweeted. “Captured ISIS prisoners secured.”
What happens next is unclear.
The U.S. withdrawal was followed by Turkish aggression, and Trump faced criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike who blamed him for allowing the violence to go unchecked and leaving Kurdish allies to fend for themselves. Turkey and Russia reached an agreement Tuesday that would transform the map of northeast Syria, installing their forces along the border and filling the void left by the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Ankara last week to work out the cease-fire. Though that period has since lapsed, Pence said there's an opportunity for a permanent cease-fire in the region.
James Jeffrey, a career diplomat who oversees Washington’s role in the global fight against the Islamic State, also told lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he does not believe the troop withdrawal added to Turkey’s decision to invade northern Syria. Jeffrey, however, did concede that if U.S. forces had been told to stand their ground amid a Turkish invasion, Turkey may have thought otherwise about crossing the border.
Following the exit of U.S. troops from the region, Russian military police began patrolling part of the Syrian border Wednesday, following the agreement between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Under the 10-point deal, Russia and Turkey have given Kurdish fighters 150 hours starting at noon Wednesday — meaning, until next Tuesday at 6 p.m. — to withdraw from the border.
Russian and Syrian government forces would move into that area immediately to ensure the Kurdish fighters pull back 20 miles from the border. Then at the end of the 150 hours, Russian-Turkish patrols would begin along a six-mile-wide strip of the border.
The exception would be the region around the town of Qamishli at the far eastern end of the border, which has some of the densest Kurdish population.
Russian spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian newswires, that if the Kurds do not complete their withdrawal by the Tuesday deadline, Turkey would resume their offensive.
“It’s quite obvious that if the Kurdish units don’t withdraw with their weapons then Syrian border guards and Russian military police will have to step back. And the remaining Kurdish units will be steamrolled by the Turkish army," Peskov said.
Fox News’ Melissa Leon, Andrew O’Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Schumer urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. last week to bring the House resolution to the Senate floor for debate and vote, but on Tuesday said that "while leader McConnell initially seemed interested in this, he now seems to be going down a different path."
Lawmakers worried that the removal of American troops from Syria would leave the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) vulnerable to a Turkish invasion and a resurgence of the Islamic State.
The resolution, introduced by Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, calls upon the White House to put forward a plan for the “enduring defeat” of the Islamic State and demand that Turkey cease its military operations in Syria.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee said the administration has "no plan" to deal with the rising tensions in Syria. "This is make it up as you go."
"The president should revoke the invitation to meet with Erdogan in November," Reed added, as the Turkish leader is expected to visit the White House in the coming weeks.
"We’ll be forced to send more troops when ISIS raises the black and white flag again," Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-IL, said. "I am tired of Trump wrapping himself in the flag in the morning and abandoning our troops by the afternoon."
Turkey warns it will ramp up its assault against the Kurds if any fighters are left in northeastern Syria; Steve Harrigan reports from Erbil, Iraq.
Senators on both sides of the aisle pressed President Trump’s Special Representative for Syria Engagement on Tuesday about America’s withdrawal of troops from northern Syria ahead of Turkey’s recent invasion of the region.
James Jeffrey, a career diplomat who also oversees Washington’s role in the global fight against the Islamic State, told lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he does not believe the troop withdrawal added to Turkey’s decision to invade northern Syria. Jeffrey, however, did concede that if U.S. forces had been told to stand their ground amid a Turkish invasion, Ankara may have thought otherwise about crossing the border.
“If U.S. troops had been given an order to stand and fight against a NATO ally, Turkey would have thought otherwise,” he said.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., pressed Jeffrey over the decision making process about removing U.S. soldiers from northern Syria and whether the special representative agreed with Trump’s move. Jeffrey evaded Cardin’s probe, saying only that he was not consulted before Trump made his choice to pull troops from the region.
“Presidents have to make a decision,” Jeffrey said before being cut off by Cardin.
Jeffrey’s testimony came shortly after Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey announced an agreement Tuesday to jointly patrol almost the entire northeastern Syrian border after the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters.
The announcement came as Kurdish fighters completed their pullout from a section of the Syrian-Turkish border as required by a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that was set to expire Tuesday night. Together the arrangements transform the map of northeast Syria, leaving Turkey in sole control over one section in the middle of the border, while Turkey, Russia and the Syrian government will have hands in the rest.
The deployments replace American soldiers, who for five years battled alongside Kurdish-led fighters and succeeded in bringing down the rule of the Islamic State group across a third of Syria at the cost of thousands of Kurdish fighters' lives.
Trump initially announced his intention late last year to begin withdrawing troops from Syria, a decision that prompted the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS.
At the time, there were about 2,000 American troops deployed to Syria.
The U.S. pullout announced last week largely abandoned Syrian Kurdish allies who have fought the Islamic State group alongside U.S. troops for several years. Between 200 and 300 U.S. troops are to remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.
The U.S. abandonment of their Kurdish allies and the possibility of a re-emergence of ISIS dominated much of the hearing, with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers both criticizing Trump’s decision to pull out troops.
“I think it is extraordinary to me, that the United States of America cannot stand up to our friend and ally, Turkey, and get Turkey to negotiate prior to coming in and crushing our allies the Kurds in Northeast Syria,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., added: “President Trump has not just betrayed our Kurdish allies and made us and our allies less safe by allowing for the release of ISIS hardened fighters, but he's also ceded important ground to Russia.”
Under a 10-point deal, Russia and Turkey have given Kurdish fighters 150 hours starting at noon Wednesday — meaning, until next Tuesday at 6 p.m. — to withdraw from the border.
Russian and Syrian government forces would move into that area immediately to ensure the Kurdish fighters pull back 20 miles from the border. Then at the end of the 150 hours, Russian-Turkish patrols would begin along a 6-mile wide strip of the border.
The exception would be the region around the town of Qamishli at the far eastern end of the border, which has some of the densest Kurdish population. Russian and Turkish officials did not immediately say what the arrangement would be around Qamishli.
The U.S. withdrawal of troops from northern Syria does not mean that the soldiers will be returning stateside. Instead, the White House said it would instead redeploy more than 700 to western Iraq to help counter ISIS, despite the Iraqi military saying those U.S. troops don't have permission to stay in the country.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday he planned to talk to Iraqi leaders to work out details, adding that the U.S. has no plans to have the troops stay in Iraq "interminably." Esper is to speak with the Iraqi defense minister on Wednesday and said he would underscore that the aim is to pull U.S. soldiers out and "eventually get them home."
President Trump vented his frustration Monday about the criticisms leveled against him over recent controversies, including his Syria pullout decision, the location of the 2020 G-7 summit and the House’s “illegitimate” impeachment inquiry, while saying the "president of the United States should be allowed to run the country, not have to focus on this kind of crap."
The president spoke to reporters ahead of a Cabinet meeting at the White House, striking an unapologetic tone as he defended his withdrawal of the U.S. military from northern Syria, claiming that his decision was simply a delivery of a 2016 campaign promise to bring U.S. troops home.
“Where is the agreement that says we have to stay in the Middle East for the rest of humanity? For the rest of civilization, to protect the Kurds? We’ve taken very good care of them,” Trump said. “We’re bringing our troops back home. I got elected by bringing our troops back home.”
Earlier this month, Trump ordered the bulk of approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria to withdraw after officials said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made it clear in a phone call that his forces were about to invade Syria to push back Kurdish forces. Turkey has considered many of the Kurdish fighters to be terrorists. Several hundred U.S. troops currently remain in the southern Syrian outpost but are there mostly to counter threats from Iran.
The president, despite mounting criticisms over the move over longstanding military relations with Kurdish armed forces, has maintained that the Kurds are “going to be safe,” while noting that the U.S. “never agreed to protect [them] for the rest of their lives.”
Last week, the president sent a letter to Erdoğan encouraging him to “work out a good deal,” threatening to “destroy” the Turkish economy if he continued his aggression against the Kurds.
“I’m trying to get out of wars, we may have to get in wars—we’re better prepared than we’ve ever been,” Trump said, noting that he has his eye on Iran, and warned that the country “could be hit like they’ve never been hit before.”
But Trump went on to blast congressional Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., over the formal impeachment inquiry into him.
“I think these people, it’s terrible what they’re doing—Pelosi, Shifty Schiff, Schumer—these people are trying to destroy the country,” Trump said. “It’s a very bad thing that they’re doing.”
“They want to impeach me because it’s the only way they’re gonna win,” Trump said. “It’s so illegitimate. It cannot be the way our great founders meant this to be.”
He went on to say: “The president of the United States should be allowed to run the country not have to focus on this kind of crap–while at the same time, doing a great job on Syria, and Turkey and all of the other things that we're doing."
The impeachment inquiry was sparked by a whistleblower complaint that said that Trump had pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, over their business dealings in Ukraine—specifically, why the elder Biden pressured the former Ukrainian president to fire a top prosecutor who was investigating a natural gas firm where Hunter sat on the board. The whistleblower’s complaint stated their concerns that Trump was soliciting a foreign power to influence the 2020 presidential election.
The president’s request also came after millions in U.S. military aid to Ukraine had been frozen, something critics have cited as evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement. The White House and the president’s allies, though, have denied any sort of quid pro quo, and the Bidens have maintained that they did “nothing wrong.”
The president then shifted his focus to the controversy surrounding his proposal to host the 2020 G-7 summit at his property—Trump National Doral Golf Club outside of Miami, Florida. The White House announced last week that the resort would host the international summit, but after attacks from Democrats and ethical concerns of the president personally profiting off an official government event, the White House backed down.
“Doral was a very simple situation,” he said, noting he planned to host the event there at “no cost.” “It would have been great, but the Democrats went crazy, even though I would have done it free.”
“’Oh, you’ll be getting promotion,’—I get more promotion than any human being that’s ever lived, some good, some bad, the people who like me give me only the good, the people who don’t like me give me only bad—I don’t need promotion,” he continued.
“I was willing to do this for free. It would have been the greatest G-7 ever,” he said.
Trump went on to explain that he donates his presidential salary, which he said is approximately $450,000, while also giving his businesses to his family and trusts. He went on to deliver fresh swipes at former President Barack Obama over his business agreement with Netflix, and his book deal.
“I’m sure he didn’t even discuss it while he was president, yeah, yeah,” Trump said.
“You people with this phony emoluments clause,” he said. “I would say it cost me between $2 and $5 billion to be president—and if I had to do it again, I would. I’m making a big difference for our country.”
He added: “So whether I lost $2 billion or $5 billion, more or less, it doesn’t make any difference for me. If you’re wealthy, it doesn’t make a difference…I’m doing it for the country.”
Fox News' Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.
U.S. officials say they are unclear as to when the 5-day cease-fire announced by Vice President Pence officially begins; national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin reports from the Pentagon.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rebuked President Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria on Friday, calling it a “grave strategic mistake” in an op-ed that claimed the move had set back the U.S. fight against Islamic terrorism in the region.
“Withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria is a grave strategic mistake. It will leave the American people and homeland less safe, embolden our enemies, and weaken important alliances,” McConnell, R-Ky., writes for The Washington Post. “Sadly, the recently announced pullout risks repeating the Obama administration’s reckless withdrawal from Iraq, which facilitated the rise of the Islamic State in the first place.”
Trump has faced fierce bipartisan criticism for his decision to move U.S. forces from northern Syria, effectively abandoning Kurdish fighters who have long been allied with the U.S. and subsequently clearing the way for an invasion by Turkey, which views the Kurds as terrorists.
But Trump hailed the move as a “tremendous success” after a cease-fire agreement was secured on Thursday. Turkey's military incursion into northeastern Syria last week, known as Operation Peace Spring, will pause during that time so Kurdish-led forces can pull back from a 20-mile-wide safe zone on the Turkish-Syrian border. The U.S. and Turkey agreed that the military operation will end entirely upon completion of the Kurdish withdrawal, according to the deal.
In his op-ed, McConnell warns against America abandoning the “mantle of global leadership.”
“If we abandon that mantle today, we can be sure that a new world order will be made — and not on terms favorable to us,” he said, an apparent reference to fears that Russia will use the U.S. withdrawal to strengthen its foothold in the Middle East.
“Even if the five-day cease-fire announced Thursday holds, events of the past week have set back the United States’ campaign against the Islamic State and other terrorists,” he argues. “Unless halted, our retreat will invite the brutal Assad regime in Syria and its Iranian backers to expand their influence. And we are ignoring Russia’s efforts to leverage its increasingly dominant position in Syria to amass power and influence throughout the Middle East and beyond.”
He urges the president to keep a “limited military presence” in Syria, as well as maintaining U.S. presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan, before taking a shot at President Trump’s comments about ending “endless wars” by arguing that wars do not end, but are only won or lost.
“America’s wars will be “endless” only if America refuses to win them,” he writes.
Those concerns have been shared by other hawkish GOP senators, including Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who said that the withdrawal strengthens Iran, Russia and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Trump has faced bipartisan criticism over his decision to pull out troops in the war-torn country. On Thursday night, Trump praised a cease-fire between the two forces at a Texas rally and credited his "unconventional" approach for enabling the truce.
He spoke about the violence in northern Syria and said it was like “two kids in a lot, you’ve got to let them fight and then you pull them apart.” He called the fighting “nasty” and said it is not fun “having bullets going all over the place.”
Trump has been criticized before for what opponents said was an effort to downplay the crisis for the Kurds. Earlier in the week, the president said Syria has "a lot of sand over there. So there’s a lot of sand that they can play with." He said the Kurds, a U.S. ally credited with their effort to dismantle ISIS, are "no angels."
The president has insisted that the move to withdraw troops will prove to be wise and praised the cease-fire as a "great day for civilization."
"Everybody agreed to things that three days ago they would have never agreed to," he told reporters. "That includes the Kurds. The Kurds are now much more inclined to do what has to be done. Turkey is much more inclined to do what has to be done."
The White House on Wednesday released a letter in which Trump warned Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the sanctions could destroy his economy and that the world “will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”
Sen. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, said he welcomed the cease-fire but wanted to know what America’s role in the region would be and why Turkey was facing no consequences for its invasion.
“Further, the cease-fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally,” he said on the Senate floor.
Romney questions why the terms of the recently announced ceasefire between Turkey and Kurdish forces were not discussed before U.S. troops left the area.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, on Thursday slammed President Trump for withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria and called the cease-fire between Turkey and Kurdish-led forces "far from a victory."
Speaking on the Senate floor after Vice President Mike Pence's announcement of a five-day cease-fire, Romney said: “serious questions remain about how the decision was reached precipitously to withdraw from Syria and why that decision was reached.”
In this image fro video, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah., speaks on the Senate floor, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Washington. (Senate television via AP)
The cease-fire, announced after Pence’s meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara, agrees to halt Turkey’s offensive in Syria for five days so that Kurdish YPG forces can pull back from the roughly 20-mile safe zone on the Turkish-Syrian border.
All Turkish military operations will pause during that time, and the offensive – known as “Operation Peace Spring” – will halt entirely upon the completion of the Kurdish withdrawal, under the terms of the deal.
The cease-fire was heralded by President Trump as a “great day for civilization.” But that didn’t change the fact, argued Romney, that the U.S. has “abandoned” the Kurds.
"Adding insult to dishonor, the administration speaks cavalierly, even flippantly, even as our ally has suffered death and casualty," Romney said. "We once abandoned a red line. Now we abandon an ally."
He continued: "The decision to abandon the Kurds violates one of our most sacred duties. It strikes at American honor. What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history.”
Turkey invaded northeast Syria shortly after U.S. troops withdrew from the area. Trump’s abrupt decision has sparked international bipartisan condemnation, with lawmakers arguing the decision would lead to a resurgence of ISIS and put the Kurds – who helped the U.S. fight the terror group – in danger.
Turkey refutes claims of Syria cease-fire as U.S. officials express skepticism whether cease-fire will hold; reaction and analysis from the 'Special Report' All-Stars.
The U.S. and Turkey reached an agreement Thursday for a cease-fire in the Turks' deadly attacks on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. Below is a joint U.S.-Turkish statement on the deal:
1. The US and Turkey reaffirm their relationship as fellow members of NATO. The US understands Turkey’s legitimate security concerns on Turkey’s southern border. 2. Turkey and the US agree that the conditions on the ground, northeast Syria in particular, necessitate closer coordination on the basis of common interests. 3. Turkey and the US remain committed to protecting NATO territories and NATO populations against all threats with the solid understanding of “one for all and all for one”. 4. The two countries reiterate their pledge to uphold human life, human rights, and the protection of religious and ethnic communities. 5. Turkey and the US are committed to D-ISIS/DAESH activities in northeast Syria. This will include coordination on detention facilities and internally displaced persons from formerly ISIS/DAESH-controlled areas, as appropriate.
6. Turkey and the US agree that counter-terrorism operations must target only terrorists and their hideouts, shelters, emplacements, weapons, vehicles and equipment. 7. The Turkish side expressed its commitment to ensure safety and well-being of residents of all population centers in the safe zone controlled by the Turkish Forces (safe zone) and reiterated that maximum care will be exercised in order not to cause harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure. 8. Both countries reiterate their commitment to the political unity and territorial integrity of Syria and UN-led political process, which aims at ending the Syrian conflict in accordance with UNSCR 2254. 9. The two sides agreed on the continued importance and functionality of a safe zone in order to address the national security concerns of Turkey, to include the re-collection of YPG heavy weapons and the disablement of their fortifications and all other fighting positions. 10. The safe zone will be primarily enforced by the Turkish Armed Forces and the two sides will increase their cooperation in all dimensions of its implementation.
11. The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow the withdrawal of YPG from the safe zone within 120 hours. Operation Peace Spring will be halted upon completion of this withdrawal. 12. Once Operation Peace Spring is paused, the US agrees not to pursue further imposition of sanctions under the Executive Order of October 14, 2019, Blocking Property and Suspending Entry of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Syria, and will work and consult with Congress, as appropriate, to underline the progress being undertaken to achieve peace and security in Syria, in accordance with UNSCR 2254. Once Operation Peace Spring is halted as per paragraph 11 the current sanctions under the aforementioned Executive Order shall be lifted. 13. Both parties are committed to work together to implement all the goals outlined in this Statement.
Pence praises the leadership of President Trump, negotiations with Turkish President Erdogan.
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday that they have reached a cease-fire agreement between Turkey and Kurds, following a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.
The deal is for a 120-hour cease-fire, during which time the Kurdish-led forces could pull back. All Turkish military operations under the recent offensive known as Operation Peace Spring will pause during that time, and the operation itself will come to an end upon the completion of the Kurdish withdrawal, under the terms of the deal. Pence said a safe zone between the two sides will be established.
“Turkey and the United States agree on the priority of respecting vulnerable human life, human rights, and particularly the protection of religious and ethnic communities in the region,” Pence said during a press conference while in Turkey.
It remains to be seen whether the Kurds will agree to the terms.
The Turkish offensive began after President Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northern Syria. Trump was heavily criticized for the move by lawmakers from both parties.
Last week, Trump sent a letter to Erdogan encouraging him to “work out a good deal,” threatening to “destroy” the Turkish economy if Erdogan continued his aggression against the Kurds.
“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” Trump said, before stating that he would call Erdogan.
It was reported by the BBC Thursday that Erdogan “thoroughly rejected” the letter and threw it “in the bin,” but hours later Pence announced the potential cease fire.
Trump teased the news before the formal announcement.
Democratic leadership speaks to the press after meeting with the president.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced at a news conference outside the White House on Wednesday that they had just walked out of a meeting with President Trump on Syria policy, after he apparently called Pelosi a "third-rate politician" and angrily suggested the Democrats probably appreciated communist Islamic State terrorists in the Middle East.
"What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown, sad to say," Pelosi, D-Calif., remarked.
She said later, at the Capitol: "I pray for the president all the time, and I tell him that — I pray for his safety and that of his family. Now, we have to pray for his health — because this was a very serious meltdown on the part of the president."
A Democratic source familiar with the conversation told Fox News that Schumer, D-N.Y., started to read the president a quote from former Defense Secretary James Mattis from Sunday: "And, in this case, if we don't keep the pressure on, then ISIS will resurge. It's absolutely a given that they will come back."
According to the source, Trump cut Schumer off and responded that Mattis was "the world’s most overrated general. You know why? He wasn’t tough enough. I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month."
"What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown, sad to say."
— House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Trump reportedly said fewer than 100 ISIS prisoners had escaped amid Turkish aggression and the U.S. troop pullback in the Middle East, and that the escapees were "the least dangerous" ones. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, according to the source, confirmed the president's number, but not that those terrorists were the least dangerous. "I don't know that," Esper told Schumer, the source recounted.
The meeting devolved into the president calling the speaker a name, the source said, noting that Trump was "quite nasty, so she stood up to go. She started to sit back down but Hoyer got her to go. Pelosi and Hoyer walked out of the meeting."
The source said Schumer stayed back for a minute to push Esper on whether the U.S. had specific intelligence that the Turks or Syrians definitely would guard the other ISIS prisoners. Esper reportedly said they didn't have any such reports.
Schumer, standing alongside Pelosi at the news conference outside the White House, claimed the discussion fell apart while the politicians were discussing the president's pullout from Syria — and that Trump had said that "some of ISIS were communists, and that might make you happy."
A convoy of Turkish backed Free Syria Army about to cross into Turkey near the town of Azaz, Syria, on Wednesday. (AP Photo)
"I asked the president what his plan was to contain ISIS," Schumer said. "He didn't really have one. He said the Turks and the Syrians will guard the ISIS prisoners. I said, 'Is there any intelligence evidence that the Turks and Syrians will have the same interest that the Kurds or we did in guarding ISIS?' And the secretary of defense, thank god he was honest, said, 'We don't have that evidence.' So I said, 'How can we think this is a plan?'"
Schumer added that the situation was "appalling," and that the president was "insulting, particularly to the speaker, but he called her a third-rate politician. He said that there are communists involved, and you guys might like that. This was not a dialogue, this was a diatribe — a nasty diatribe, not focused on the facts."
Hoyer, D-Md., said the situation was unprecedented.
In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke billowed from fires in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, caused by bombardment by Turkish forces, on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
"We were offended deeply by his treatment of the speaker of the House of Representatives," Hoyer said. "Unfortunately, the meeting deteriorated into a diatribe. … and very offensive accusations being made by the president of the United States. I have served with six presidents. I have been in many, many, many meetings like this. Never have I seen a president treat so disrespectfully a coequal branch of the government of the United States."
The meeting came amid rapid-fire developments in the Middle East. Trump, earlier this week, authorized sanctions against Turkey, after he had threatened to ruin the country economically if it did anything that he considered "off limits" in his "great and unmatched wisdom."
And Fox Business' Trish Regan exclusively obtained a Wednesday letter from Trump to Turkey's president, urging the two to "work out a good deal!"
Syrian forces on Wednesday night rolled into the strategic border town of Kobani, blocking one path for the Turkish military to establish a "safe zone" free of Syrian Kurdish fighters along the frontier as part of its week-old offensive.
The seizure of Kobani by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also pointed to a dramatic shift in northeastern Syria: The town was where the United States military and Kurdish fighters first united to defeat ISIS four years ago and holds powerful symbolism for Syrian Kurds and their ambitions of self-rule.
The convoys of government forces drove into Kobani after dark, a resident said. The resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, was one of the few remaining amid fears of a Turkish attack on the town.
In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke billows from targets in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, during bombardment by Turkish forces, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip 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, now into its eighth day. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Syria's state-run media confirmed its troops entered the town.
Syria's presence in Kobani puts a firm limit on Turkish ambitions in its offensive. The town lies between a Turkish-controlled enclave farther west and smaller areas to the east that Turkey seized in the past week.
Turkey had talked of creating a 19-mile deep "safe zone," driving out Kurdish fighters from the border region. Turkish forces had shelled Kobani in recent days as part of the offensive but had not advanced ground troops on it.
The battle for Kobani turned the once-nondescript town into a centerpiece of the international campaign against ISIS, with TV cameras flocking to the Turkish side of the border to track the plumes of smoke rising from explosions in the besieged town. Then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared it would be "morally very difficult" not to help Kobani.
The ISIS extremists were finally driven out in early 2015 in their first major defeat, and an alliance was cemented that would eventually bring down the group's "caliphate" in Syria.
Now the Kurdish authority agreed to allow Damascus to deploy its military in the town and other parts of northeast Syria to protect them from Turkey's offensive launched after Trump pulled back American troops working with the Kurds.
After being effectively abandoned by the U.S., the Kurds' turn to the Syrian government for protection has allowed Damascus' ally, Russia, to step in as the biggest power player.
Fox News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Trump was asked at a joint press conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella about comments by Graham in which the hawkish lawmaker compared Trump's decision to former President Barack Obama’s move to leave Iraq — which Graham sees as responsible for the rise of ISIS.
“Lindsay Graham would like to stay in the Middle East for the next thousand years, with thousands of soldiers and fighting other people’s wars. I want to get out of the Middle East,” Trump responded, before referencing to Graham’s role as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I think Lindsay right now should focus on judiciary,” he said.
Trump has faced fierce bipartisan criticism for his decision to move U.S. forces from northern Syria, effectively abandoning Kurdish fighters who have long been allied with the U.S. and clearing the way for an invasion by Turkey, which views the Kurds as terrorists.
The Turkish offensive has led to fears that it could destabilize the region and help ISIS re-establish itself as its fighters escape from Kurdish-run prisons. Trump has since imposed economic sanctions on Turkey, raising steel tariffs as part of an effort to get the country to stop its push into Syria.
But in the face of that criticism, Trump has presented his decision as putting America first by withdrawing troops from a conflict that does not involve American interests. It is, he says, part of his 2016 campaign promise to pull America out of "endless wars" and bring troops home. Vice President Mike Pence this week is traveling to Ankara to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“I want to bring our soldiers back home, we’re a policing force, not a fighting force,” Trump said Wednesday. Earlier in the day at a press event in the Oval Office, he had also said that “the Kurds know how to fight … they are not angels.”
Returning to Graham, Trump said that South Carolinians wish that their senator was focusing on investigating former FBI officials and the conduct of former President Barack Obama during the 2016 election.
“That's what the people of South Carolina want him to focus on, the people of South Carolina don’t want us to get into a war with Turkey, a NATO member, or with Syria,” he said. “Let them fight their own wars, they've been fighting for a thousand years, let them fight their own wars.”
“The people of South Carolina want to see those troops come home and I won an election based on that and that's the way it is, whether it’s good or bad, that’s the way it is,” he said.
Graham was subsequently asked about Trump’s remarks and predicted a “national security disaster” over the withdrawal, and urged Trump to listen to his advisers.
"Every national security expert that you have to advise you suggests that if we abandon the Kurds it will hurt us down the road that ISIS is likely to come back and Iran will be the biggest winner," he said.
"You know, the problem with President Trump he talks like [former President] Ronald Reagan and he acts like [Kentucky Sen.] Rand Paul on occasion," he told reporters. "He's got a chance to change this. I would urge him to do so. It's not about me wanting to stay in Syria forever. It's about me wanting to make sure that ISIS does not reemerge."
Fox News’ Andrew O’Reilly, Jason Donner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
President Trump on Wednesday once again defended his decision to remove U.S. military forces from northern Syria, saying before a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the White House that Turkey’s invasion of Syria is “not our problem.”
Trump’s comments come amid widespread, bipartisan criticism of his decision to withdraw from the region and ahead of a planned trip by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to press Turkey for a cease-fire in its attack on Syrian Kurdish fighters.
“We are not a policing agent,” Trump said. “It is time for us to go home.”
Trump’s decision to move U.S. forces out of Syria effectively abandoned the Kurdish fighters, long allied with the U.S., and cleared the way for Turkey's invasion. After heavy criticism at home, Trump sought new leverage with Turkey by imposing economic sanctions.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has so far defied U.S. threat of sanctions, saying the only way its military offensive would end was if Syrian Kurdish fighters leave a designated border area.
Russia has moved quickly to entrench its leadership role and fill the void after Trump ordered the pullout of American forces in northeastern Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that Moscow is committed to mediating between Syria and Turkey.
Following the U.S.'s withdrawal from northern Syria, Russia has sent troops to the war-torn region to mediate a resolution between Turkey and the Kurds.
Erdogan also said he had "no problem" accepting an invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Russia soon to discuss Syria. He then threw into doubt a planned Nov. 13 meeting with Trump, citing anger over the sanctions that Washington imposed Monday on the NATO ally.
Washington’s abrupt withdrawal of its troops pushed the Kurds to strike a deal with the Russia-backed government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, allowing his forces to return to regions of northern Syria they abandoned at the height of the eight-year civil war.
It has also allowed Moscow to take a more prominent role as an interlocutor among Assad, the former U.S.-allied Kurds and Turkey.
Russia announced it has already deployed troops outside the flashpoint town of Manbij to keep apart the Syrian military and Turkish-led forces. Syrian forces took control of Manbij as U.S. troops completed their pullout from the town Tuesday. The Syrian and Russian deployments appear to have thwarted Turkey's hopes to capture the town, located just west of the Euphrates River.
Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, also said Moscow will continue to encourage Syria's Kurds and the Syrian government to seek rapprochement following the U.S. withdrawal. The Kurds are hoping to reach a deal with Damascus that preserves at least some degree of the autonomy they seized for themselves during the civil war.
U.S. troops leave northeastern Syria; chief White House correspondent John Roberts reports.
American pastor Andrew Brunson, whose new book shares his story of being held as a political hostage for two years in Turkey, traveled to Washington Tuesday to be a guest around town for the GOP.
Vice President Pence tweeted: “Great having Pastor Brunson at the @WhiteHouse as he released his new book, God’s Hostage where he tells his story of imprisonment & freedom in Turkey. Pastor Brunson & his wife now travel the country talking about eroding religious liberties around the world. God Bless you both!”
"The ongoing violence in the region severely undermines the D-ISIS campaign, endangers civilians and religious minorities and threatens the security of the entire region," the White House said. "The administration is resolved to maintain security in the region, the safety of civilians, and the continued detention of ISIS fighters."
President Trump has demanded an immediate end to Turkey’s assault against Kurdish fighters and civilians in Syria — an assault Turkey began after Trump announced he was moving U.S. troops out of northeast Syria. That move incited Trump critics across the political spectrum, who said it would leave the Kurds, who'd been U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State, vulnerable to Turkish forces.
Now in its seventh day, Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria has caused tens of thousands to flee their homes.
Vice President Mike Pence met with American pastor Andrew Brunson at The White House. (Twitter)
Indiana Congressman Jim Banks, Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, joins Rob Schmitt and Jillian Mele on 'Fox & Friends First.'
Vice President Pence will visit Turkey on Wednesday as that country continues an incursion into Syria that began after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of American troops stationed in Syria's northeast.
The White House said Tuesday that Pence will travel with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, United States National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien and Ambassador James Jeffrey, with the goal of reaching a cease-fire agreement and negotiating a settlement between Turkey and the Kurdish forces that Americans had allied with to defeat the Islamic State.
"The ongoing violence in the region severely undermines the D-ISIS campaign, endangers civilians and religious minorities and threatens the security of the entire region," the White House said. "The administration is resolved to maintain security in the region, the safety of civilians, and the continued detention of ISIS fighters."
Vice President Pence in Washington this summer. He's heading to Turkey. (Associated Press)
Pence's office says he will "reiterate President Trump's commitment to maintain punishing economic sanctions on Turkey until a resolution is reached." On Tuesday, Trump said his administration has imposed the "strongest" sanctions on Turkey.
"We are being very tough on Turkey," Trump said. "They made a lot of money shipping steel."
Pence's trip comes with tensions in the region flaring. There are reports of escaped ISIS prisoners and Russian military patrolling near the Syria-Turkey border.
Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters Washington is “deeply concerned” that Russian troops are patrolling between the two sides.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said it was good news that Pence would be traveling to Turkey.
"I'm heartened to hear that Vice President Pence will soon lead a delegation to begin immediate talks with Turkey to end this violence," he said. "It would be a tragedy for both of our nations if Turkey's escalation in Syria imperils our common fight against ISIS and emboldens adversaries like Iran and Russia."
Now in its seventh day, Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria has caused tens of thousands to flee their homes, It has also upended alliances, and is again redrawing the map of the volatile north Syria region.
In the first week of the Turkish assault, at least 154 fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been killed, as well as 128 fighters from Turkish-backed Syrian factions, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitor of the war. It said at least 69 civilians have been killed in Syria. Turkey says six of its soldiers have died, as well as at least 20 Turkish civilians killed by Kurdish mortar fire across the border.
The White House signals they are ready to act as Turkey escalates force in Syria; John Roberts reports from Washington.
President Trump announced Monday afternoon that he will soon issue an executive order imposing sanctions against Turkey for its "destabilizing" offensive in Syria, amid a bipartisan outcry over the president's troop pullback earlier this year that endangered U.S.-aligned Kurdish forces.
The sanctions followed the president's Oct. 7 threat, when he warned that "if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)."
In a statement posted to Twitter on Monday, Trump announced that steel tariffs would "be increased back up to 50 percent," and the U.S. will "immediately stop negotiations … with respect to a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey."
The order would enable "powerful" additional sanctions against those who "may be involved in serious human rights abuses, obstructing a ceasefire, preventing displaced persons from returning home, forcibly repatriation refugees, or threatening the peace, security, or stability in Syria," Trump wrote.
People standing on a rooftop in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, at the border with Syria, watch as in the background smoke billows from fires caused by Turkish bombardment in Tal Abyad, Syria, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. Turkey's official Anadolu news agency says Turkey-backed Syrian forces have advanced into the center of a Syrian border town, Tal Abyad, on the fifth day of the Turkey's military offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Current and former Turkish officials, as well as anyone contributing to "Turkey's destabilizing actions in northeast Syria," would be targeted, Trump said.
Remaining U.S. troops in northeast Syria will be withdrawn as planned, Trump said, and redeployed "in the region to monitor the situation and prevent a repeat of 2014," when ISIS made major territorial gains.
In separate tweets, the president said he would "much rather focus on our Southern border" than the conflict in Syria.
Trump also emphasized that Syria "wants naturally to protect the Kurds." The New York Times reported that a deal between Kurdish forces and Damascus – which was announced Sunday evening – would enable Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces to attempt to regain a foothold in the country's northeast.
A poster of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is held up during show of support by about a dozen people for Turkey's operation in Syria, in the border town of Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. Erdogan has criticized NATO allies which are looking to broaden an arms embargo against Turkey over its push into northern Syria. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
"An agreement has been reached with the Syrian government – whose duty it is to protect the country's borders and preserve Syrian sovereignty – for the Syrian Army to enter and deploy along the Syrian-Turkish border to help the [Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF] stop this aggression" by Turkey, the SDF, which is a primarily Kurdish militia, said in a statement.
Syrian TV said government troops were moving to the north to confront the Turkish invasion but gave no details.
Adding to the turmoil Sunday, hundreds of Islamic State families and supporters escaped from a holding camp in Syria amid the fighting between Turkish forces and the Kurds.
The fast-deteriorating situation was set in motion last week, when Trump ordered U.S. troops in northern Syria to step aside, clearing the way for an attack by Turkey, which regards the Kurds as terrorists. Since 2014, the Kurds have fought alongside the U.S. in defeating the Islamic State in Syria, and Trump's move was decried at home and abroad as a betrayal of an ally.
Over the past five days, Turkish troops and their allies have pushed their way into northern towns and villages, clashing with the Kurdish fighters over a stretch of 125 miles. The offensive has displaced at least 130,000 people.
The developments came as graphic images of violence directed at Kurds circulated on social media.
Turkey has justified its ongoing invasion of northeast Syria to the United Nations by saying it's exercising its right to self-defense under the U.N. Charter, according to a letter circulated Monday.
Ankara said the military offensive was undertaken to counter an "imminent terrorist threat" and to ensure the security of its borders from Syrian Kurdish militias, whom it calls "terrorists," and the Islamic State extremist group.
Turkey's position is that the main Kurdish group in Syria is linked to an outlawed Kurdish group in Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers' Party. Known as the PKK, that group has waged a 35-year old conflict against the Turkish state that has left tens of thousands of people dead.
Turkey's U.N. Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu said in the letter to the Security Council dated Oct. 9 that its counter-terrorism operation will be "proportionate, measured and responsible."
"The operation will target only terrorists and their hideouts, shelters, emplacements, weapons, vehicles and equipment," he said. "All precautions are taken to avoid collateral damage to the civilian population."
But U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday that at least 160,000 civilians have been newly displaced and that military action has already reportedly resulted in many civilian casualties.
A Turkish forces tank is driven to its new position after was transported by trucks, on a road towards the border with Syria in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. Syrian troops entered several northern towns and villages Monday, getting close to the Turkish border as Turkey's army and opposition forces backed by Ankara marched south in the same direction, raising concerns of a clash between the two sides as Turkey's invasion of northern Syria entered its sixth day. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Sinirlioglu said Syria's eight-year conflict "has created a breeding ground for various terrorist organizations, posing a wide range of threats to the region and beyond."
Despite these claims, many foreign fighters who joined IS originally found their way to Syria through Turkey, and it was widely believed Turkish authorities turned a blind eye at the time.
Turkey said it invoked Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which authorizes military action in self-defense. It also cited six Security Council resolutions since 2001 dealing with the fight against terrorism.
"Turkey's national security has been under the direct and imminent threat of terrorist organizations operating in the east of the Euphrates in Syria," Sinirlioglu said.
In addition, he said, an agreement signed by Turkey and Syria in Adana on Oct. 20, 1998 "constitutes a contractual basis for my country to fight all kinds of terrorism emanating from Syrian territory in its hideouts and in an effective timely manner."
Sinirlioglu underscored Turkey's strong commitment to Syria's territorial integrity and political unity.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says Turkey's invasion could not have been stopped; Lucas Tomlinson reports from the Pentagon.
The Pentagon is accelerating plans to get all American troops out of Syria in the coming days and weeks, two U.S. officials tell Fox News.
It's not clear right now when all the roughly 1,000 US troops in Syria will be pulling out of the country. A small garrison in southern Syria near Jordan with over 100 U.S troops could remain to guard a supply line used by Iranian-backed forces to move weapons between Tehran and Beirut, as well as Damascus, the officials added.
Defense Secretary Esper told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” President Trump had ordered a “deliberate withdrawal” from northern Syria. It was not clear if he meant leaving the country all together.
Esper hinted the retreat from Syria could take longer because of the large number of U.S. armored vehicles and heavy weapons currently on the ground in Syria—military hardware he does not want to see fall into enemy hands.
“We want to make sure we don't leave equipment behind. So I'm not prepared to put a timeline on it,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Further evidence the relationship with NATO ally Turkey is deteriorating, Fox News is told the Pentagon canceled a planned Open Skies reconnaissance flight over Russia this week with the Turkish military. The flight aboard a Turkish plane with U.S. military observers on board is part of a long-standing arms control agreement between NATO and Russia.
The Pentagon has not immediately returned a request for comment on the canceled flight.
Critics say the Trump administration has betrayed the Syrian Kurds–the main U.S. ally against ISIS.
“What we're seeing on the ground is absolutely sickening. It’s absolutely shameful that President Trump allowed Turkey to begin killing the Syrian Kurds who were our allies in the fight against ISIS,” Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Esper defended the decision to retreat. On “Fox News Sunday,” Trump’s defense secretary said there was nothing the U.S. could do to stop Turkey’s invasion.
“They were fully committed to doing this, regardless of what we did. We thought it was prudent. It was my recommendation. I know the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed as well. We should not put U.S. forces in between a Turkish advance,” Esper said. “We're talking less than 50, more like two dozen. There is no way they could stop 15,000 Turks from proceeding south.”
Asked if Turkey had behaved like a NATO ally, Esper was candid, “The arch of their behavior over the past several years has been terrible. I mean, they are spinning out of the western orbit, if you will,” Esper said.
The situation in Syria following Turkey’s invasion gets “worse by the hour,” he added.
Esper said Trump ordered roughly two dozen U.S. troops to pull back from Syria’s border with Turkey border to avoid being “trapped” by Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian forces pushing north and Turkish forces moving south.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials cite Turkish “propaganda” as pushing the narrative that hundreds of ISIS fighters have escaped or were let go from Kurdish-run prisons in Syria.
The officials tell Fox News Turkish artillery units are “intentionally” shelling Kurdish-run prisons in Syria allowing ISIS fighters to escape.
Turkey claims 800 ISIS fighters fled the border town of Tal Abyad, but the local prison only held a “few dozen,” ISIS prisoners, a U.S. official told Fox News as an example of what he called, “Turkish propaganda.”