Oct 24, 2019

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

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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Cornyn defends Trump despite Turkey's intent of ethnic cleansing

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Shortly after President Trump announced Wednesday he will lift sanctions against Turkey, Texas Sen. John Cornyn told reporters that withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria was warranted due to their safety and Turkey's intent on ethnic cleaning of the Kurds, the Dallas Morning News reports.

“If Turkey was planning on coming into northern Syria and trying to ethnically cleanse the Kurds, and U.S. troops were caught in the middle, I am not completely convinced that it was a bad idea to get them out of harm’s way."
Go deeperArrowOct 24, 2019

Top diplomat says U.S. abandoned Kurds to "catastrophic" Turkish assault

Civilians in the Syrian Kurdish border town of Ras al-Ain mourn those killed in Turkish attacks. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. "didn't try" to stop the "catastrophic" Turkish invasion of northern Syria last month, according to a sharply critical internal memo sent by a top U.S. diplomat and obtained by the New York Times.

Why it matters: The diplomat, deputy U.S. envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition William Roebuck, said the U.S. had abandoned its Kurdish allies to a Turkish onslaught that involved "war crimes and ethnic cleansing." Those concerns have been widespread in the Pentagon and State Department but not stated publicly by senior officials. Roebuck sent the memo on Oct. 31 to the U.S. envoy for Syria policy, James Jeffrey, and to more than 40 other officials who work on Syria issues.

Go deeperArrowNov 7, 2019

U.S. troops move to eastern Syria to execute oil field protection plan

A Turkey-backed Syrian fighter looks on from a fortified position near the village of Awshariyah overlooking the Euphrates river, south of Jarabulus in the northern part of Aleppo province on Oct. 26. Photo: AAREF WATAD/Getty Images

The U.S. military has reportedly started to send troops to eastern Syria in accordance with orders from President Trump, who seeks to protect oil fields in the region, per U.S. defense officials cited by the Washington Post.

Why it matters: "U.S. officials have said that the new mission around the oil fields there will prevent the Islamic State from capturing them, but also allow the Pentagon to continue carrying out counterterrorism operations on the militant group and maintain control of the airspace overhead," the Post writes.

Go deeperArrowOct 26, 2019