The Pentagon on Tuesday asserted that top defense officials were consulted prior to President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump goes after Cassidy after saying he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Jan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups MORE's surprise and widely criticized announcement that U.S. troops would leave northeast Syria ahead of a Turkish offensive in the area.
"Despite continued misreporting to the contrary, [Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense & National Security — Afghanistan concerns center stage with G-20 US Army investigating raising of Confederate flag at base in Germany Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon officials get grilling from House MORE] and [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley] were consulted over the last several days by the President regarding the situation and efforts to protect U.S. forces in northern Syria in the face of military action by Turkey," chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.
Reports emerged Monday that top military officials were blindsided by Trump's decision to move U.S. troops in northeast Syria out of the way of a long-threatened Turkish incursion against Syrian Kurdish forces, a group that has worked with Washington in defeating ISIS fighters in the country. Ankara considers the Kurds terrorists connected an insurgency inside Turkey.
The United States had been working with Turkey to set up a safe zone along the Syria-Turkey border in order to assuage Turkish concerns about the Kurdish forces. The U.S. military was touting that effort as recently as Saturday.
In staying in the area, U.S. troops had also effectively been acting as a shield for the Kurds against a Turkish strike.
Hoffman said the Defense Department's position "has been and remains that establishing a safe zone in northern Syria is the best path forward to maintaining stability."
He adds that the military has "made no changes to our force presence in Syria at this time," and that U.S. troops were moved "out of the path of potential Turkish incursion to ensure their safety."
A senior administration official also told reporters on Monday that Trump was not giving Turkey a “green light” to invade Syria, and that, of the roughly 1,000 U.S. troops in the country, about 50 to 100 special operators will be moved to other bases.
Trump, meanwhile, has defended his decision by saying that it is time to end U.S. involvement in "ridiculous Endless Wars,” even as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including many of Trump’s typical Republican allies, have criticized the move as abandoning the Kurds to be attacked by Turkey.
Following Trump's announcement, Turkey on Monday evening bombed the Syrian-Iraqi border in anticipation of an offensive.
The administration is set to give congressional staffers a “top secret” briefing on the Syria announcement later Tuesday afternoon.