The Defense Department insisted Tuesday that top military officials were consulted and fully in the loop about President Trump’s surprise decision to pull dozens of U.S. special forces from the Syria-Turkey border ahead of a Turkish military incursion.
The blunt statement from the Pentagon comes amid swirling rumors that Mr. Trump did not discuss the move with military leaders before making the decision after a Sunday phone call with Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Both Defense Secretary Mark Esper and new Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, officials said, were informed beforehand.
“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,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said.
The White House said Monday it will move between 50 and 100 special forces away from a buffer zone near the border to other locations inside Syria. The U.S. has roughly 1,000 troops inside the country.
The decision comes as Turkey begins a military operation against the U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces, a key American ally in the fight against the Islamic State. Turkey considers elements of the Kurdish-led SDF to be terrorists and a threat to Turkey’s national security.
The White House and Pentagon have condemned the looming invasion.
“The department’s position has been and remains that establishing a safe zone in northern Syria is the best path forward to maintaining stability,” Mr. Hoffman said. “Unfortunately, Turkey has chosen to act unilaterally. 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.”
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