WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Tuesday that top military officials were consulted several times by President Trump regarding the Turkey-Syria situation and suggestions that the military was blindsided are not accurate.
Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesperson, told Pentagon reporters on Tuesday that Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley “were consulted over the last several days by the President” prior to the White House’s late Sunday announcement that opened the door to an unimpeded Turkish military incursion into northern Syria.
Hoffman did not address the specific issue if Esper and Milley were in support of the White House acquiescence. He did restate the Pentagon’ objections to the Turkish action.
“The Department’s position has been and remains that establishing a safe zone in northern Syria is the best path forward to maintaining stability,” Hoffman said.
“Unfortunately, Turkey has chosen to act unilaterally,” he said. “As a result we have moved the U.S. forces in northern Syria out of the path of potential Turkish incursion to ensure their safety. We have made no changes to our force presence in Syria at this time.”
There are about 100 U.S. special forces in that part of Syria, Pentagon officials have said. They began relocating on Monday.
The White House action was slammed by former Gen. Joseph Votel, the last commander of U.S. Central Command, who said Tuesday it “threatens to undo five years’ worth of fighting against ISIS and will severely damage American credibility and reliability in any future fights where we need strong allies.”
Votel detailed the painstaking efforts through two administrations to build the anti-ISIS coalition, with the Kurd forces the backbone of the vital ground troops. He also said that the U.S. “worked endlessly to placate our Turkish allies.
“Yet Ankara repeatedly reneged on its agreements with the U.S., deeming them inadequate and threatening to invade SDF-held areas, despite the presence of U.S. soldiers,” Votel said. He appeared at a forum hosted by The Atlantic Council and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on “New Strategic Visions and Power Competition in the Middle East.”
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, senators are demanding an all-chamber briefing immediately on Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from those key positions in northern Syria.
The effort is being led by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Chris Coons, D-Del.
“We are concerned that this was an abrupt decision taken in the face of reported opposition from military and diplomatic advisers, and that thousands of hardened ISIS fighters and thousands more ISIS supporters currently in detention may become free to fight again as their Kurdish captors turn to defending themselves against a Turkish incursion,” the two wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
“We believe that it is imperative that the Department of Defense, State Department, and the Intelligence Community provide an all members classified briefing on this decision as soon as possible,” they wrote in the letter, made public to the media.
–by Tom Squitieri