It is difficult to be a key local ally of the United States in Syria.
According to Esper, the US troops needed to be evacuated, since it was a “terrible situation over there.” He said that the US opposed it, and that the advance in northern Syria would be expanded further south and to the west.
“Look it’s a very terrible situation over there. A situation caused by the Turks by President Erdoğan. Despite our opposition they decided to make this incursion into Syria. And at this point in time in the last 24 hours we learned that they likely intend to expand their attack further south than originally planned and to the west. And so we know that’s happening”
Separately, since the US abandoned them, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Kurdish militia, are looking to make some sort of deal with the Syrian “regime” and the Russian armed forces to deal with the Turkish operation.
Thus, if the US troops weren’t withdrawn, they would be caught between two warring factions – the Turks in the north and the SDF, possibly with the Syrian Arab Army.
“And so we find ourselves as we have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies and it’s a very untenable situation. 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.”
Essentially, the US troops are caught between their allied NATO troops and the enemy “Assad regime”, between the hammer and the anvil.
The SDF already reached an agreement with the Syrian Arab Army, which is currently entering the SDF-controlled areas.
Esper then clarified that this was not a withdrawal from the entire country, just from northern Syria, approximately 1,000 troops would be moved elsewhere. He refused to provide a timeline of the withdrawal, it just needed to happen soon, but not leave equipment behind.
“It’ll be a deliberate withdrawal and we want to conduct it as- as safely and quickly as possible. So we want to make sure we deconflict a pullback of forces. We want to make sure we don’t leave equipment behind. So I’m not prepared to put a timeline on it, but that’s- that’s our general game plan.”
Margaret Brennan then alleged that if the US still had control of the airspace over northern Syria the Turkish advance wouldn’t happen. Esper said it would.
“MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you actually believe they would advance if U.S. forces were there in the numbers and with the force and with the commander in chief saying don’t do this?
SEC. ESPER: I do because in my lead up to talks with my counterpart of the past several weeks- I’ve been on the job a little bit over two months. It became very clear to me that the Turks were fully committed to conducting this incursion. And I think Secretary Pompeo would tell you the same. I know General Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has heard the same. The Turks were committed to doing this. This should not be a surprise. If you go back in time to when we first began this relationship with the- with the Syrian Kurds at that time in 2014 the Turks were protesting at that moment.”
He further said that it was unclear if there were more troops if the Turkish would fire upon them, intentionally or not, since there were reports of fire landing near US equipment and troops.
“We need to sort that out. We’ve given them the locations of our forces. But look, I- I’ve been to war. I know what wars like. There’s a fog out there and things happen and we want to make sure we don’t put our soldiers in a situation where they could be killed or injured. And look, even if the Turks decided not to attack forces- I mean they got over 15,000 forces. What we decide to pull back from that immediate zone of attack was about less than 50, maybe two dozen forces. It would be irresponsible for me to keep them in that position.”
Furthermore, despite the US, according to Esper not supporting the advance in northern Syria, the US allegedly still has control over the airspace, and he admits that not carrying out air strikes on Turkish forces was coordinated.
“It was an coordinated arrangement between us and the Turks. And 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.”
They would not get air support from the US, but the SDF would also not get any air support.
But the main idea was to avoid another war, and especially one that has a 200-year history, such as between the Turkish and the Kurdish.
There was nothing concrete with the SDF turning to Syria and Russia, but it appears unlikely that the Turkish forces would cease their advance, so it was likely for the Kurdish militia to look for assistance from the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian Armed Forces.
The US was protecting the Kurdish militia from the Turkish forces during the fight against ISIS, but now the threat of an actual war became too real, thus, prompting the US to retreat and abandon their allies.
“The Kurds have been very good partners in the D-ISIS campaign. They were very good fighters on the battlefield. We obviously enabled that as well. But at the same time, we didn’t sign up to fight the Turks on their behalf. And we’ve been very clear with them about that. That’s why since I came into office over two months ago I worked week after week with my defense minister counterpart from Turkey and urged them not to do this.”
Esper said he had warned Turkey of ISIS possible resurgence, sanctions from NATO, the EU and the US, and the Turkish side still decided to carry out their advance, disregarding all warnings.
Regardless of the reports of atrocities that are being carried out by Turkish-backed militias and the hundreds of thousands of people that are being displaced, the US is now simply “condemning” the actions.
“It’s terrible. It’s a terrible situation. We condemn it. We have condemned it. It’s- these are justice things that we told the Turks would happen and play out. Who’s conducting it, it’s unclear at this point and time.”
The US withdrawing is essentially allowing this, then completely shifting the responsibility on the Turkish side. Since it’s been clear for a while what Turkey’s intentions were and that they were dead set on carrying them out, Washington simply became an enabler, and similarly to many other situations, it is refusing any responsibility.
“Well, let’s be clear the United States is not allowing this. Turkey committed this action. They decide to make an incursion in northern Syria despite our protestations, our urgings not to do it, all of our warnings. They decided to do it.”
This is yet another example, out of a plethora of recent ones which demonstrates how the US really treats its ‘key allies’ around the world. Fortunately for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Fores, there is the ‘bloody Assad regime’ in Syria that is now working to prevent a further expansion of the Turkish military operation into northern Syria.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- European NATO Members Limit Arms Exports To Turkey In Face Of Operation Peace Spring
- Turkish Forces Advance West Of Ras Al-Ayn, Capture Seven Villages (Map, Video, Photos)
- Kurdish-led SDF Says It Reached Deal With Damascus. Syrian Army Marches Towards Kobani