Trump consulted top officials on Turkey’s Syria military operation - Pentagon

The Pentagon dispelled reports that U.S. President Donald Trump had not consulted Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark A. Milley on his decision to move U.S. troops from the Turkish-Syrian frontier after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

“Despite continued misreporting to the contrary, Secretary Esper and Chairman Milley were consulted over the last several days by the president regarding the situation and efforts to protect U.S. forces in northern Syria in the face of military action by Turkey,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement

Hoffman said the Defense Department still saw establishing a safe zone in northern Syria agreed by Turkey and the United States in August as the best path for maintaining stability in the region. 

Unfortunately, Turkey has chosen to act unilaterally, the statement said, referring to a likely Turkish operation that aims to clear the northeast Syria border region of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey sees as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that is fighting for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey.

“As a result we have moved the U.S. forces in northern Syria out of the path of potential Turkish incursion to ensure their safety. We have made no changes to our force presence in Syria at this time,” the Pentagon said. 

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a multi-ethnic coalition dominated by the YPG, has led the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) in northern Syria with U.S. backing since 2015. The SDF has lost some 10,000 fighters in the battle to defeat the extreme jihadists.

An unnamed U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday that Esper and Milley had taken part in the Sunday phone call between Trump and Erdoğan. 

"Given the likely military issues raised on the call between (Trump) and President Erdoğan, Secretary of Defense Esper and Chairman Milley participated on the call," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. troops began withdrawing from positions in northern Syria on Monday, paving the way for a Turkish operation which Ankara said was due to the lack of progress to establish a jointly patrolled safe zone.