House Dems Press Trump Admin for Answers on Abrupt Change in Syria Policy

Oct 8, 2019

WASHINGTON – U.S. Representatives David N. Cicilline (RI-01), Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), Ted Deutch (FL-22), Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (CA-39), William Keating (MA-09), Brad Sherman (CA-30), Veronica Escobar (TX-16), Jason Crow (CO-06), Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06), Andy Kim (NJ-03), Tom Malinowski (NJ-07), and Anthony G. Brown (MD-04) — all members of the House Foreign Affairs or Armed Services Committees — are demanding answers today from Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper on the Trump administration’s inexplicable decision to change course in Syria and abandon the Kurdish allies who have provided significant support in the fight against ISIS.

 

“Precipitously pulling out of northern Syria at the request of the Turkish Government threatens to undo much of the work that has been done by brave people – many of them American, many of them Kurdish – to defend the world from the likes of ISIS,” the Members wrote before outlining a series of questions for the Pentagon chief. 

 

The letter includes a list of questions about the motivation behind Trump’s policy changes, whether the Department of Defense had been consulted, and whether the shift had been coordinated with our Kurdish allies prior to the White House’s announcement.

 

The members also expressed concern about the Department’s plans and readiness for the future inside Syria in the now-likely event of a collapse of security arrangements there.

 

The full text of the letter, as sent to Secretary Esper, is embedded below. 

 

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October 8, 2019

 

The Honorable Mark T. Esper

Secretary of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301-1000

 

Secretary Esper: 

 

The Department of Defense has worked closely with allies from around the world to destroy ISIS and provide some stability in northern Syria and Iraq. Preeminent in our strategy has been the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), largely comprised of Kurdish troops of the highest caliber and motivation. 

 

That fact casts yesterday’s announcement by the White House about the change in our defense policy for northern Syria in a dark light. Precipitously pulling out of northern Syria at the request of the Turkish Government threatens to undo much of the work that has been done by brave people – many of them American, many of them Kurdish – to defend the world from the likes of ISIS.

 

In light of this situation and the need for urgent Congressional oversight of a rapidly evolving situation, we ask that you provide answers to the following questions of urgent concern immediately:

 

1. Were you or anyone else within the Department of Defense consulted before this policy was announced by the White House?

 

2. Did you participate in the October 6th phone call between President Erdogan and President Trump? 

 

3. On August 6, you stated it would be “unacceptable” for Turkish forces to exceed the security zone agreed upon between the U.S. and Turkey and that the U.S. would prevent unilateral incursions. What changed since that date? 

 

4. What is the Department’s current policy with respect to Turkish operations in northern Syria?

 

5. Was this policy shift coordinated with our Kurdish allies prior to the decision being made? If not, when were they notified?

 

6. Was this policy shift coordinated with our Coalition allies and partners prior to the decision being made? If not, when were they notified?

 

7. Was this policy shift coordinated with the Russian Government prior to the decision being made? If not, when were they notified?

 

8. What steps are being taken to ensure the safety of Kurdish civilians and the SDF forces residing in the areas being turned over to Turkish control?

 

9. What steps are being taken to ensure that foreign terrorist fighters currently detained by the SDF are properly monitored and secured as SDF personnel redeploy to face the Turkish threat? 

10. What efforts are underway to address the secure management of the Al-Hol camp and the roughly 68,000 IDPs, including the populations in annexes?

 

Additionally, we have concerns about the Department’s plans and readiness for future Syria operations in the now-likely event of a collapse of security arrangements there. We specifically flag your promise, now broken, to not abandon our SDF allies, made repeatedly in your short time as Secretary. 

 

In light of this disconnect between words and actions, please indicate how DoD intends to defend American national security interests in Syria after the inevitable deterioration in security and stability that will follow this decision. Please include the rationale for why the Administration now intends to abandon our Kurdish allies despite recently insisting the opposite.

 

Sincerely,

 

David N. Cicilline                                                       Ruben Gallego

Member of Congress                                                   Member of Congress

 

Theodore E. Deutch                                                    Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr.                                  

Member of Congress                                                   Member of Congress

 

William R. Keating                                                     Jason Crow

Member of Congress                                                   Member of Congress

 

Brad Sherman                                                             Veronica Escobar

Member of Congress                                                   Member of Congress

 

Chrissy Houlahan                                                       Andy Kim

Member of Congress                                                   Member of Congress

 

Tom Malinowski                                                          Anthony G. Brown

Member of Congress                                                   Member of Congress