U.S. Defense Secretary Confirms Syrian Troop Withdrawal: 'We Didn't Sign Up to Fight the Turks'

The U.S. Secretary of Defense confirmed 1,000 U.S. troops are set to evacuated from northern Syria Sunday under President Donald Trump's "deliberate withdrawal" and administration officials are continuing to threaten Turkey's economy.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said Sunday morning that the Trump administration "did not want to put American forces into harm's way" and is pulling out of the fighting along the Turkish border, although a second Pentagon official told ABC News a residual U.S. force may be kept in Syria. Trump defended the controversial decision to abandon Kurdish forces, labeling the fighting between Turkey and the Kurds as part of yet another "endless war."

Trump joined Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin Sunday in continuing to threaten to "shut down" Turkey's economy should the situation become too volatile. But outraged Democratic lawmakers responded to these threats by asking why the Trump administration is holding off on sanctions against Turkey.

"I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria," Esper told Face the Nation Sunday morning.

Esper expressed hope the Kurds will "cut a deal with the Syrian and Russian forces," but he acknowledged that the only reason Kurdish forces are engaging in such talks is to protect themselves from being overrun by the Turkish military. He said the Kurds were good partners against ISIS, but added, "we didn't sign up to fight the Turks on their behalf. We've been very clear with them about that."

Esper said he does not believe Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will agree to a ceasefire or to move back across the Turkish border.

Tweeting Sunday morning, Trump preempted Esper's appearance on CBS: "The Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years. Turkey considers the PKK the worst terrorists of all. Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them! We are monitoring the situation closely. Endless Wars!"

Trump continued, "Do you remember two years ago when Iraq was going to fight the Kurds in a different part of Syria. Many people wanted us to fight with the Kurds against Iraq, who we just fought for. I said no, and the Kurds left the fight, twice. Now the same thing is happening with Turkey..."

Mnuchin, speaking Friday at the White House, continued to threaten Turkey's economy should their military aggressions escalate: "These are very powerful sanctions. We hope we don't have to use them, but we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to."

"We've put [Turkey] on warning. The president has authorized me to effectively shut down the entire Turkey economy and we can do that at a moments notice on his command," Mnuchin also told ABC This Week on Sunday.

Trump claimed GOP Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic members of Congress are working to impose "powerful sanctions" against Turkey. But Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen appeared on Fox News Sunday and demanded to know the Trump administration timeline.

"For God's sakes what are they waiting for? People are being killed right now. Our Syrian Kurdish allies are being killed right now," he told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace.

Mark Esper
President Donald Trump speaks during the swearing-in ceremony of Mark Esper as secretary of defense on July 23 in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty
U.S. Defense Secretary Confirms Syrian Troop Withdrawal: 'We Didn't Sign Up to Fight the Turks' | News