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Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday that the U.S. is preparing to relocate 1,000 troops from northeastern Syria as fighting between Turkish-backed forces and Syrian Kurdish fighters escalates.

"In the last 24 hours, we learned that [Turkish forces] likely intend to expand their attack farther south than originally planned, and to the west. ... We also have learned the last 24 hours that the Kurdish forces, the SDF, are looking to cut a deal with the Syrians and the Russians to counterattack against the Turks in the north. So we find ourselves, as we have American forces likely caught between two opposing, advancing armies and it's a very untenable situation."
— Mark Esper

Driving the news: Esper made the announcement as Turkish-backed forces seized positions along a highway that serves as the U.S. military's main supply route into Syria, forcing U.S. troops to withdraw from another town in the northeast, according to the Washington Post.

  • U.S. and Kurdish officials told the Post that Turkish-backed rebels have set up checkpoints on the highway near Ain Issa, which potentially cuts off U.S. troops based to the west — in Manbij and Kobane — from the bulk of the U.S. forces farther east.
  • The highway is also a route for aid. Humanitarian organizations are withdrawing staff from northeastern Syria as the fighting continues, aid workers said.
  • Syrian Kurdish officials on Sunday said 950 Islamic State, or ISIS, supporters had escaped from a camp for displaced people near a U.S.-led coalition base amid clashes near Ain Issa, a key Kurdish-held town in northern Syria.

The big picture: Esper, appearing on "Fox News Sunday," was grilled by Chris Wallace about reassurances he made last week that the U.S. was not abandoning their Kurdish allies, who lost more than 10,000 troops in the fight against ISIS. The head of the primarily Kurdish SDF said Sunday that the U.S. was leaving them to be slaughtered.

  • Esper responded: "I would say what we've been saying, because we stay in contact with them. We're doing everything we can to get the Turks to stop this egregious behavior. Get them to go back across the line and stop. And that's our message to them at this point in time."
  • Trump, meanwhile, tweeted on Sunday morning: "Do you remember two years ago when Iraq was going to fight the Kurds in a different part of Syria. Many people wanted us to fight with the Kurds against Iraq, who we just fought for. I said no, and the Kurds left the fight, twice. Now the same thing is happening with Turkey. The Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years. Turkey considers the PKK the worst terrorists of all. Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them! We are monitoring the situation closely. Endless Wars!"

Go deeper ... James Mattis on Trump's Syria decision: ISIS will resurge

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
4 hours ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania.