Senators on both sides of the aisle pressed President Trump's Special Representative for Syria's engagement on Tuesday about US withdrawal of troops from northern Syria before Turkey's recent invasion of the region.
James Jeffrey, a career diplomat who also oversees Washington's role in the global fight against the Islamic State, told lawmakers in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that he did not believe the squad was adding to Turkey's decision to invade northern Syria. Jeffrey admitted, however, that if US forces had been told to stand in their territory in the midst of a Turkish invasion, Ankara may have thought otherwise about crossing the border.
"If US troops had been ordered to stand and fight against a NATO ally, Turkey would have thought otherwise," he said.
IRAQ'S MILITARY SECURE US TROOPS LETS SYRIA HAVE NO ADDITION TO STAND IN THE COUNTRY
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Pushed Jeffrey over the decision-making process to remove U.S. soldiers from northern Syria and whether the Special Representative agreed with Trump's move. Jeffrey avoided Cardin's probe, saying only that he was not consulted before Trump chose to withdraw troops from the region.
"Presidents have to make a decision," Jeffrey said before being interrupted by Cardin.
Jeffrey's testimony came shortly after President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey announced an agreement Tuesday to jointly patrol nearly the entire northeastern Syrian border following the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters.
The announcement came when Kurdish warriors completed their excerpt from a section of the Syrian-Turkish border under the requirement of a US-brokered weapons weapon that would expire Tuesday night. Together, the arrangements transform the map of northeastern Syria and leave Turkey alone in control of a section in the middle of the border, while Turkey, Russia and the Syrian government will have their hands in the rest.
AMERICAN TROOPS LEAVING SYRIAN CITY CONTROLLED OF KURDS PELTED with POTATOES, TOMATOES
The deployments replace American soldiers who, for five years, fought alongside Kurdish-led groups over the government's few ice fighters and managed a third of Syria at the cost of thousands of Kurdish fighters' lives.
Trump initially announced his intention late last year to begin withdrawing troops from Syria, a decision that led to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk resigning, the special president's envoy for the global coalition defeating ISIS.
At that time, there were approximately 2,000 US troops being dispatched to Syria.
The US withdrawal announced last week largely abandoned Syria's Kurdish allies who have been fighting the Islamic State group with US troops for several years. Between 200 and 300 US troops will remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.
The US surrender of its Kurdish allies and the possibility of re-emergence of ISIS dominated much of the interrogation, with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers both criticizing Trump's decision to withdraw troops.
Kurdish military leader says his fighters still want to work with America
"I think it is unusual for me that the United States cannot stand up to our friend and ally, Turkey, and get Turkey to negotiate before he comes in and crushes our Allied Kurds in northeastern Syria, "said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
Then. Chris Coons, D-Del., Added: "President Trump has not only betrayed our Kurdish allies and made us and our allies less secure by allowing the release of ISIS-hardened fighters, but he has also shipped an important ground to Russia." [1
Russian and Syrian government forces would immediately move into that area to ensure that Kurdish fighters withdraw 20 miles from the border. Then, after 150 hours, the Russian-Turkish patrols began along a 6-mile-wide border strip.
The exception would be the region around the city of Qamishli at the far end of the border, which has some of the densest Kurdish population. Russian and Turkish officials did not immediately say what the arrangement would be about Qamishli.
US withdrawal of troops from northern Syria does not mean that the soldiers will return to the state. Instead, the White House said it would instead redistribute more than 700 to western Iraq to counter ISIS, even though the Iraqi military says US troops are not allowed to remain in the country.
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Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday that he planned to talk to Iraqi leaders to elaborate details and added that the US has no plans to allow troops to stay in Iraq "continuously." Esper will speak to the Iraqi defense minister on Wednesday, saying he would emphasize that the goal is to pull out U.S. soldiers and "eventually get them home."
Hogan Gidley, the White House's chief secretary of state press, said Tuesday that Trump remains committed to bringing the troops back to the United States
"That was his goal when he ran for office," Gidley said. "That's what he wants to do now. But he also wants to ensure stability in the region."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.