An effort to withdraw the 1,000 remaining US troops in northern Syria is underway, after new intelligence shows US forces in the crosshairs of a Turkish offensive against the Kurdish-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) and a possible planned counter-attack.
Speaking on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Oct. 13, 2019, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said President Donald Trump directed the national security team to begin a “deliberate withdrawal” of US forces from northern Syria.
“In the last 24 hours we learned that [Turkish forces] likely intend to expand their attack further south than originally planned and to the west,” Esper said.
“We also have learned in the last 24 hours […] the Kurdish forces, the SDF, are looking to cut a deal if you will with the Syrians and the Russians to counter-attack against the Turks in the north. And so we find ourselves is we have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies and it’s a very untenable situation.”
Esper specified that the withdrawal, which he said will done “as safely and quickly as possible,” is of troops from northern Syria, which is where he says most of US forces in the country already are.
US forces had been repositioning in northern Syria over the course of the week prior, as Trump announced that several dozen troops would shift away from the Kurdish forces – a move criticized as opening the door for Turkey to attack the Kurds, who have been US allies in the fight againt ISIS.
Trump has denied that the US is enabling the Turkish offensive, calling it a “bad idea.” However, the move to reposition troops stemmed from a call between Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Since then, Turkish forces have entered Kurdish territory in Syria and overtaken a key border town. Artillery fire nearly hit a small group of US forces stationed in a Kurdish-controlled town on Oct. 11, 2019, too. ISIS members imprisoned in Syria have indicated a plan for jailbreaks amid the conflict, and a video emerged Oct. 19, 2019, that appears to show some ISIS members escaping in the aftermath of a Turkish attack.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
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