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State Department circulates talking points contradicting Trump on Syria

US military vehicles drive on a road in the town of Tal Tamr on October 20, 2019, after pulling out of their base.
U.S. military vehicles drive on a road in the town of Tal Tamr on October 20, 2019, after pulling out of their base. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department distributed talking points to American embassies on Oct. 17 that included warnings that Turkey’s military offensive against Kurds in northern Syria is undermining counter-ISIS efforts and endangering innocent civilians, Vox's Alex Ward reports.

Why it matters: The talking points contradict President Trump's optimism about the Turkish incursion that followed his decision to remove troops from northern Syria. They indicate that members of his administration, especially career diplomats, are worried about the long-term consequences of the decision.

What they're saying: According to a copy of the talking points obtained by Vox, the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs wrote that "Turkey’s military offensive is severely undermining counter-ISIS efforts, endangering innocent civilians, and threatening peace, security, and stability in the region."

  • "Turkey does not appear to be mitigating the humanitarian impact of its invasion and occupation of some parts of northeast Syria," the cable adds. The U.S. has "called on Turkey to investigate possible violations of international humanitarian law, especially unlawful attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure."
  • The talking points also note that the department has withdrawn humanitarian and stabilization assistance advisers from northern Syria, which will make it difficult to implement the $50 million aid that the U.S. plans to distribute, per Vox.

Meanwhile, Trump has brushed off concerns that ISIS fighters could take advantage of the chaos and escape prisons and detention camps. On Oct. 9, Trump said ISIS fighters would defect to Europe if they escaped.

  • So far, at least 950 ISIS supporters have escaped camps for displaced people.
  • On Oct. 16, the president said that "the Kurds are much safer right now. But the Kurds know how to fight, and as I said, they're not angels. They're not angels. ... I wish them all a lot of luck."

Of note: The State Department released the talking points before Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and agreed to a temporary ceasefire that would force Kurdish forces to evacuate the area.

  • A State Department official told Vox the talking points have not been updated since the ceasefire.

Go deeper: Pentagon may struggle to contain ISIS in Syria