Oct 20, 2019

Pentagon chief says U.S. troops to leave Syria for Iraq

A soldier stands guard during a joint patrol with Turkish troops in September in the Syrian village of al-Hashisha, near the border with Turkey. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Saturday night that all of the nearly 1,000 U.S. troops leaving Syria will continue the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS, from western Iraq, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: President Trump has faced scathing criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike for his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, which paved the way for Turkey to lead a military offensive against Kurdish forces who allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS.

  • On Wednesday, the House voted 354-60 condemn Trump's Syria decision.

What he's saying: Esper told reporters traveling with him to the Middle East that U.S. troops would "help defend Iraq" and that the troop movement would be completed in "weeks not days," per Reuters. He didn't rule out U.S. counterterrorism operations being launched from Iraq into Syria, according to AP.

The big picture: Turkey agreed on Thursday to cease its military operation in northern Syria for five days so Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces could withdraw from the area. Kurdish fighters say Turkey has violated the ceasefire, but Esper said it's "generally holding," Reuters reports.

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a Washington Post op-ed on Friday Trump's Syria decision would set back years of fighting ISIS and other terrorists and allow Iran and Russia to expand their influence in the area.
  • Senior Democrats said they walked out of a meeting with Trump Wednesday after he attacked Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and suggested there was no plan to contain ISIS in Syria. Trump said Pelosi had a meltdown, not him — as Democrats had suggested.

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Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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Iraqi military says U.S. troops cannot stay in Iraq

A military convoy of US forces makes its way through Erbil, Iraq. Photo: Yunus Keles/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Iraqi military on Tuesday said U.S. troops leaving Syria and heading to neighboring Iraq do not have permission to remain in the country, the AP reports.

Why it matters: The denial contradicts U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper's Oct. 20 statement that all the nearly 1,000 U.S. troops leaving Syria will continue to fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS, from western Iraq.

Go deeperArrowOct 22, 2019

Pelosi leads U.S. congressional group in Jordan for talks on Syria

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) arrived in Jordan Saturday, where she's leading a group of U.S. lawmakers for meetings with Jordanian King Abdullah II and other top officials on security in the region, her office confirmed in a statement.

"With the deepening crisis in Syria after Turkey’s incursion, our delegation has engaged in vital discussions about the impact to regional stability, increased flow of refugees, and the dangerous opening that has been provided to ISIS, Iran and Russia."
— Pelosi's statement on the Jordan visit
Go deeperArrowOct 20, 2019

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