Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday that Turkey “appears to be” committing war crimes in its incursion into northern Syria.
“It appears to be,” Esper agreed on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday when host Margaret Brennan described some of Turkey’s actions against Kurdish forces as war crimes, including footage appearing to show the summary execution of Kurdish captives.
“It’s a very terrible situation over there, a situation caused by the Turks. Despite our opposition, they decided to make this incursion,” Esper said.
Esper also said officials need to “sort … out” reports that Turkish forces attacked U.S. Special Forces in Syria.
“We gave them the location of our forces [but] there’s a fog out there, things happen,” he said.
He also confirmed that about 1,000 U.S. troops would be withdrawn from northern Syria as part of a “deliberate withdrawal.” The Defense secretary, however, pushed back when Brennan asked if the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria and turning over operations to Turkey was “a retreat,” telling the host: “I wouldn’t characterize it that way … we did not want to put American forces in harm’s way.”
“Turkey committed this action despite our protestations, all of our warnings,” Esper added. “We are doing what’s in the interest of our servicemembers not to put them in harm’s way.”
Esper also struck a different note from other members of the Trump administration on the House’s ongoing impeachment inquiry, telling Brennan that Pentagon officials “will do everything we can to comply” with recent subpoenas from House Democrats.
–This report was updated at 10:36 a.m.