U.S. forces in Syria got an urgent alert Monday morning to pull back. “They were told, ‘We’re departing the field,'” senior U.S. defense officials said.
WASHINGTON — American forces in northeastern Syria received an urgent, unexpected alert early Monday morning to pull back from their posts.
“We’re departing the field,” the messages said, according to current and former senior U.S. defense officials.
At 3 a.m. local time, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Gen. Mazloum Kobane, also received a phone call from a senior U.S. official telling him to get on a video teleconference with an American military commander who informed him President Donald Trump had ordered U.S. troops to withdraw.
“This decision, this is something we don’t expect at all,” Kobane said during an interview with NBC News on Monday afternoon.
Confusion ensued in Syria and Washington in the hours after Trump agreed during a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to move U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria to clear the way for a Turkish military operation in the area. According to multiple current and former U.S. officials, the White House’s announcement of the decision late Sunday night blindsided not just America’s Kurdish partners in the fight against the Islamic State militant group, or ISIS, in Syria, but almost everyone — senior officials at the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House, lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East.
Sunday’s phone call between Trump and Erdogan was held to try to ease the Turkish leader’s fury that he didn’t get a one-on-one meeting with Trump last month on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, according to three current and former officials. Erdogan made it known to U.S. officials that he was not happy his only interaction with Trump during the gathering of world leaders in New York was at a large reception, according to the officials. One senior administration official said Trump’s schedule during the U.N. General Assembly — which included a dozen one-on-one meetings with world leaders — did not allow time for a meeting with Erdogan.
But Erdogan had wanted to meet with Trump to discuss a safe zone in northern Syria, for which the U.S. expressed support, and potentially purchasing a U.S. missile defense system, according to the officials.
The U.S. and Turkey have been at odds over Erdogan’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system, though Trump has refused to adopt sanctions against Ankara in response despite pressure from his own aides and members of Congress to do so.