- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2019

The U.S. will monitor the unfolding situation in northeast Syria as American military forces withdraw from the disputed area following an invasion by Turkey.

On Friday, a senior Pentagon official said the U.S. will still carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions over a roughly 20-mile zone along the border where Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces had been operating.

President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. forces from the region has been met with bipartisan opposition as Republicans and Democrats complain the administration is abandoning a stalwart ally in the fight against ISIS.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told his Turkish counterpart the U.S. expects them to adhere to the full terms of a ceasefire agreement to allow for the withdrawal of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units — or YPG — from the disputed region. The Turkish government agreed to pause offensive operations for 120 hours and commit to enacting a permanent cessation of hostilities.

“We expect Turkey to ensure the safety and well-being of all people in the area controlled by Turkish Forces,” Mr. Esper said in a statement. “Protecting religious and ethnic minorities in the region continues to be a focus for the Administration. This ceasefire is a much needed step in protecting those vulnerable populations. I also reminded him of Turkey’s responsibility for maintaining security of the ISIS detainees located in the affected areas.”

U.S. ground forces will not participate in the enforcement of the ceasefire agreement, Mr. Esper said, adding that protection of U.S forces during the “deliberate withdrawal” from northeastern Syria is the highest priority.

“U.S. forces will defend themselves from any threat as we complete our withdrawal from the area,” Mr. Esper said.

After visiting U.S. troops and allied partners in the Middle East, Mr. Esper said he will continue on to Belgium and discuss the situation with other NATO countries.

“I look forward to meeting with my Turkish and other counterparts in Brussels to reinforce the importance of ensuring a lasting political solution to the situation in Syria,” he said.

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