FNC’s Wallace to Def Sec Esper on Syrian Withdrawal: ‘Isn’t That the Definition of Abandoning the Kurds?’

On this weekend’s broadcast of “Fox News Sunday,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked by anchor Chris Wallace if President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. forces from Northern Syria was the equivalent of abandoning the U.S. allies, the Kurds.

Wallace said, “Turkish-backed militias are executing civilians and Kurdish fighters, reports that the Turks are hitting prisons and hundreds of either ISIS fighters or their supporters are escaping. How much of that can you confirm?”

Esper said, “It’s terrible, I’ve heard the same reports. It gets worse by the hour. These are all the exact things that we have communicated to President Erdogan and his ministers. I spoke to my counterpart a few days ago. I sent him a memo on Friday night, gave them a formal response, warns them that if they do this incursion, which we oppose, will see everything from the release of isis prisoners to a humanitarian catastrophe. It will damage U.S. relations with Turkey. All of this is playing out exactly as we predicted, and we again urge President Erdogan to stop and go back to the status quo. ”

Wallace asked, “What are you going to do about it? What are you going to do to stop this?”

Esper responded, “This is part of the terrible situation that Turkey has put us in an despite our protestations we now know that the Turks now intend to go further south than originally expected enter go both west and east, which would increase their zone from beyond a 30-kilometer depth and nearly 440 kilometers wide. At the same time was learned in the last 24 hours it looks like the SDF (The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces) is cutting a deal with the Syrians and Russians.”

He continued, “They are cutting a deal, and now we’re facing as U.S. forces in a trap between a Syrian Russian army moving north to take on the Turkish army that is moving south. It puts us in a terrible position, and the protection and safety of our service members comes first to me. I spoke with the national security team yesterday. We all talked on the phone. I’ve talked to the president, and he is concerned, and so last night, he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Northern part of Syria.”

Wallace said, “I’m not quite sure I understand. So the Turks and their militias are committing atrocities against the Kurds, who are our allies. The Kurds are asking us for help, but we are going to pull out and allow the Kurds to go to the Russians and the Syrians? That doesn’t seem to make much sense.”

Esper said, “You got to keep in mind that we didn’t sign up to fight Turkey, a long-standing NATO ally on behalf of the SDF. This is a terrible situation, that’s why in a little over two months I’ve been on the job, this is probably in the number one issue that I’ve dealt with week after week with our Turkish counterparts. We did everything we can to dissuade them from doing this. We thought we were making very good progress on the so-called “safety zone” in Northern Syria, a way to keep the forces separated and ensure that we can keep both of these good partners at odds and ends, but as you know, Chris, this conflict has its roots that go back 200 years and in fact in the last few years, since we began with this relationship with the courage to take on ISIS, the Turks protested it from the beginning. This is now the third incursion into Syria in the last few years to do this.”

Wallace said, “You emphasized on Friday that we stand by our Kurdish allies, who fought with us, died, 11,000 of them died in the fight against ISIS.”

He continued, “The U.S. has 50 special operations forces along the border acting as a tripwire, if you will, to keep the Turks from coming across the border. We were the protection for the Kurds. After President Trump talked to President Erdogan last Sunday, President Trump decided to pull those troops out, and the Turks invaded. Isn’t that the definition of abandoning the Kurds?”

Esper said, “You got to keep in mind that we didn’t sign up to fight Turkey, a long-standing NATO ally on behalf of the SDF. This is a terrible situation, that’s why in a little over two months I’ve been on the job, this is probably in the number one issue that I’ve dealt with week after week with our Turkish counterparts. We did everything we can to dissuade them from doing this. We thought we were making very good progress on the so-called “safety zone” in Northern Syria, a way to keep the forces separated and ensure that we can keep both of these good partners at odds and ends, but as you know, Chris, this conflict has its roots that go back 200 years and in fact in the last few years, since we began with this relationship with the courage to take on isis, the Turks protested it from the beginning. This is now the third incursion into Syria in the last few years to do this.”

Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN

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