UPDATES WITH MORE REMARKS FROM US SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
By Gozde Bayar
ANKARA (AA) - The U.S. is preparing to evacuate about 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said on Sunday.
The decision came a week after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would pull back its forces from the Syrian border after a telephone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"In the last 24 hours, we learned that [the Turks] likely intend to extend their attack further south than originally planned, and to the west," Esper said on the CBS program Face the Nation.
"We also have learned in the last 24 hours that the SDF are looking to cut a deal, if you will, with the Syrians and the Russians to counter attack against the Turks in the north,” he added.
Esper added that it will be a deliberate withdrawal and they want to conduct it as safely and quickly as possible.
Separately, Esper said the U.S. finds itself in a tough situation, as both sides are allies.
"We did not sign up to fight Turkey, a longstanding NATO ally, on behalf of the SDF," Esper said in an interview with Fox News.
He also stressed that U.S. forces will not be leaving the country altogether, but will be moving southward.
Esper also ruled out any confrontation with Turkey in line with Trump’s tweets since the start of Operation Peace Spring.
"When President [Barack] Obama took the PKK, when they bring in PKK, that’s a tough deal, because that’s been a mortal enemy of Turkey," Trump said.
Turkey on Wednesday launched Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria to secure its borders by eliminating terrorists there and to ensure the safe return of Syrian refugees and Syria’s territorial integrity.
Ankara plans to resettle two million Syrians in a 30-km-wide (19-miles) proposed safe zone in Syria, stretching from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, including Manbij. However, the presence of terror groups such as the PKK, PYD, and YPG risk its formation.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union -- has been responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children and infants.