Administration officials are defending the presidents decisions on the Syria–Turkey crisis, with Defense Secretary Mark Esper saying Turkey was prepared to attack Kurdish forces regardless of any U.S. action, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin explaining why there was a delay in imposing sanctions on Ankara.
Esper, in an interview with Fox Newss Chris Wallace on Oct. 13, pushed back on questioning from Wallace, who claimed Turkey may not have gone on the offensive if President Donald Trump had not removed the roughly 50 U.S. troops from Syria last week.
“The first thing that we understood—Ive understood from my counterparts, Secretary Pompeo from his, and certainly from President Erdogan—is they [Turkey] were fully committed to doing this regardless of what we did,” Esper said. “We are talking about less than 50, more like two dozen [U.S. special forces], there is no way they could stop 15,000 Turks from proceeding south.”
When talking about Turkey, Esper said the United States is “not going to go to war against Turkey, thats not what we signed up for.”
Esper was asked if the roughly 50 U.S. troops could have been used as a “tripwire” of sorts that would have stopped Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from the assault. Esper strongly denied that description.
“Im not one to classify them as a tripwire and sacrifice them, if you will,” he said.
The United States said on Oct. 13 that it is poised to withdraw some additional 1,000 troops from northern Syria after learning that Turkey planned to extend a military incursion further south and west than originally planned.
One consideration in the decision was that Washingtons Kurdish-led ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), were looking to make a deal with Russia to counter the Turkish offensive.
Turkeys offensive aims to neutralize the Kurdish YPG militia, the main component of the SDF, which is seen by Ankara as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. But the SDF has also been Washingtons key regional ally in dismantling ISIS and its claimed “caliphate” in Syria.
Treasury Secretary Mnuchin in an Oct. 13 interview on ABCs “This Week” defended delays in imposing U.S. sanctions on Turkey in response to its military activities. On the fifth day of Turkeys offensive against Kurdish militias, pursued despite international condemnation, Turkish-led forces appeared to have seized control of the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad, a Reuters witness said.
“Let me just say this is a complicated, developing situation. You have a NATO ally on one hand fighting against the Kurds who were helping us with the fight against ISIS,” said. “We are in daily communications with Turkey, both at the Defense Department [and] the State Department, on very specific issues. We are ready to go at a moments notice to put on sanctions.”
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