The Pentagon on Monday announced the official withdrawal of U.S. forces from northeastern Syria.
President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE last week announced U.S. troops would be removed from the area, a decision that led Turkey to launch a military offensive against Kurdish forces there.
Turkish forces last week moved into northern Syria, striking Kurdish forces that fought alongside U.S. troops in the fight against ISIS. Kurdish civilians, including women and children, have been killed in the offensive, according to sobering images and video footage that circulated on social media over the weekend.
“Due to Turkey's irresponsible actions, the risk to U.S. forces in northeast Syria has reached an unacceptable level. We are also at risk of being engulfed in a broader conflict,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement.
“Therefore, at the President's direction, the Department of Defense is executing a deliberate withdrawal of U.S. military personnel from northeast Syria,” he added.
The announcement came after a meeting of national security officials on Sunday and of other key administration officials at the White House earlier on Monday.
Esper said the invasion of northern Syria “has resulted in widespread casualties, refugees, destruction, insecurity, and a growing threat to U.S. military forces” in addition to “the release of many dangerous ISIS detainees.”
He further blamed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for consequences of the offensive, “to include a potential ISIS resurgence, possible war crimes, and a growing humanitarian crisis. The bilateral relationship between our two countries has also been damaged.”
The statement added that Esper will be visiting NATO next week in Brussels, where he plans to press allied countries “to take collective and individual diplomatic and economic measures in response to these egregious Turkish actions.”
Esper a day prior had confirmed that Trump ordered a larger withdrawal of U.S. forces — about 1,000 troops — from Syria than was previously indicated. Initially, about 50 troops were moved from two locations near the Syria-Turkey border.
Trump made the decision to increase the withdrawal amid reports that Turkey will expand its offensive “further south than originally planned and to the west,” Esper said Sunday during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
The president’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria and to turn over operations to Turkey has been met with sharp bipartisan criticism that accuses him of abandoning an ally and creating a situation for an ISIS resurgence.
Trump has not backed down from his pledge to remove U.S. forces from the country and instead has said he will soon implement sanctions that will target government officials in Ankara and “any persons contributing to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in northeast Syria.”
In a White House statement on Monday, Trump said he will redeploy troops coming out of Syria to elsewhere in the region "to monitor the situation and prevent" the return of ISIS.
He added, however, that "a small footprint" of U.S. forces will remain at the al-Tanf garrison in southern Syria "to continue to disrupt remnants of ISIS."