The White House is insisting that President Trump did not offer Turkey a “green light” to slaughter U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria last night and that the U.S. would not bear responsibility for any Islamic State, or ISIS, resurgence in the area.
Why it matters: Confusion and concern followed the sudden announcement last night that Trump had decided to pull U.S. troops from the “immediate area” into which Turkish troops are expected to advance. Turkey fiercely opposes the primarily Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, which holds the area and helped the U.S. retake swathes of Syria from ISIS, leading to bipartisan accusations that Trump is abandoning an ally.
The latest: A senior administration official told reporters on a call Monday evening that Trump will withdraw the 50–100 special forces troops currently operating near the Turkey-Syria border, but is not pulling the U.S. out of Syria entirely.
- The official said Trump had determined Turkish President Erdoğan was “set on undertaking an operation in northern Syria” after months of threats and said Trump didn’t want U.S. troops in the path of a NATO ally.
- The official said repeatedly that Trump was not endorsing Erdoğan’s plan, but wouldn’t say whether he’d warned him not to move ahead.
Between the lines: The official did not rule out attacks on Kurdish forces, but said there were no signs of an impending “genocide.”
- He also rejected the idea that the Pentagon had been “blindsided” by Trump’s decision. However, there’s widespread reporting that Trump made the move without consulting key stakeholders.
The Kurdish forces are guarding camps that hold thousands of suspected ISIS fighters and have warned that they’ll have to move forces away from them to counter a Turkish military offensive.
- "If Turkey does undertake this operation, it will be responsible for maintaining the captivity of those fighters," the official said, adding that Turkey will bear "full responsibility" if ISIS rebounds in the area.
What to watch: The official said this was “not the beginning of a formal pullout of Syria,” but added that both Trump and the American people “want our troops home as soon as possible.”