BEIRUT — Syrian government troops began moving toward towns near the Turkish border Sunday night under a deal struck with Syrian Kurds after a chaotic day that saw the unraveling of the U.S. mission in northeastern Syria.
Hundreds of Islamic State family members escaped a detention camp after Turkish shellfire hit the area, U.S. troops pulled out from another base and Turkish-backed forces consolidated their hold over a vital highway, cutting the main U.S. supply route into Syria.
By the time Defense Secretary Mark Esper appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” to announce that President Donald Trump had ordered the final withdrawal of the 1,000 U.S. troops in northeastern Syria, it was already clear the U.S. presence had become unsustainable, U.S. officials said.
The announcement by the Syrian Democratic Forces that they had reached an agreement with the Iranian- and Russian-backed government of President Bashar Assad further undermined the prospect of any continued U.S. presence in the country. The deal brings forces loyal to Assad back into towns and cities that have been under Kurdish control for seven years.
It was unclear where and when the Syrian troops would deploy or whether U.S. forces were already pulling out of areas where they are based. U.S. officials declined to confirm local media reports that troops had pulled out of the towns of Manbij and Kobane, where local officials confirmed they had agreed to allow Syrian troops to deploy.
Witnesses said celebratory gunfire erupted in parts of the town of Qamishli as Syrian troop reinforcements flew into the local airport, according to a Kurdish security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of safety concerns.
The deal followed three days of negotiations brokered by Russia between the Syrian government and the SDF, which had reached the conclusion that it could no longer count on the United States, its chief ally for the past five years in the fight against the Islamic State, according to a Kurdish intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the news media.
There were conflicting reports from Washington on whether Trump intends to order the withdrawal of all 1,000 of the U.S. troops imminently or simply to relocate those closest to the front lines to safer positions.
But with their supply lines severed, the region in disarray and their Kurdish allies focused on fighting Turkey and not the Islamic State, the U.S. troop presence in northeastern Syria is becoming increasingly untenable, the U.S. official said.