Oct 23, 2019

U.S. envoy: Evidence of war crimes in Syria during Turkish offensive

Turkey-backed Syrian fighters gather on a road between the northern Syrian towns of Tal Abyad and Kobane on October 22

Turkey-backed Syrian fighters in northern Syria on Oct. 22, hours before a deadline for the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters under a U.S.-brokered deal. Photo: Bakr Alkasem/AFP via Getty Images

Jim Jeffrey, President Trump's special representative on Syria, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday the U.S. is looking into allegations of war crimes during the Turkish offensive in Syria.

"We haven't seen widespread evidence of ethnic cleansing. Many people fled because they're very concerned about these Turkish-supported Syrian opposition forces, as we are. We've seen several incidents which we consider war crimes."
— Jim Jeffrey's testimony

Why it matters: Jeffrey made the statement to the House the same day that Trump lifted sanctions against Turkey after the nation agreed to a "permanent ceasefire" in Syria. Trump declared his decision to remove U.S. forces resulted in a "great outcome."

The big picture: During his testimony, Jeffrey also confirmed an earlier statement made by Defense Secretary Mark Esper that "over 100" militants from the Islamic State, or IS, had escaped and their whereabouts were unclear.

  • "We obviously had troops there, the mission was defeating ISIS, so if you remove those troops before that mission is complete, you have a problem — and we do have a problem right now," Jeffrey said.
  • Human rights group Amnesty International said last week that there is "damning evidence" of war crimes and other violations by Turkish forces and their allies, "launching unlawful deadly attacks in residential areas that have killed and injured civilians."
  • Turkey denies it has committed any war crimes, per Reuters.

What's next: Jeffrey told Congress the U.S. is looking at various options for working with the Syrian Democratic Forces on what kind of military coalition presence there would be in the northeast.

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