The latest on what's happening in Syria

2:57 p.m. ET, October 20, 2019

Retired US Army Gen. David Petraeus says US betrayed Syrian Kurds in "sudden exit"

CNN
CNN

Former CIA Director and retired US Army Gen. David Petraeus said today the US betrayed its longstanding ally in its fight against ISIS, the Syrian Kurds, by withdrawing US forces from the northern part of the country.

Petraeus, who previously oversaw military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, criticized President Trump's decision to withdraw US forces from northern Syria on CNN's "State of The Union." 

"Well, I think we have abandoned our Syrian Kurdish partners. They took over 10,000 losses as the defeat of Islamic State was carried out," he told CNN's Jake Tapper. "The elimination of the caliphate that ISIS had certainly with our advice and assistance and enabling and then very suddenly, this is not a phased deliberate plan withdrawal, this is a very sudden exit."

Petraeus also took issue with Trump's previous statement that leaving northern Syria would halt an "endless war." 

"This does not end an endless war. It probably prolongs it because this gives ISIS an opportunity for a resurgence," Petraeus said. "This is not a strategic success."

Some background: Petraeus' comments come amid backlash over Trump's decision to withdraw US forces from northern Syria. Vice President Mike Pence announced Thursday that he and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had reached an agreement on a ceasefire in the country. 

The move has received bipartisan criticism and concern that Trump's actions could lead to a resurgence of ISIS.  

2:28 p.m. ET, October 20, 2019

US troop withdrawal has air cover, as troops are re-deployed in the region

A US convoy departing from Kobani Landing Zone (KLZ) on Sunday will have "robust air assets monitoring the progress of the convoy" during troop re-deployment, as part of the "deliberate withdrawal from Northeast Syria," according to a statement from US Colonel Myles B. Caggins III, a Coalition military spokesman.

“The convoy, and all movement associated with it, has been de-conflicted with other forces in the region," the statement reads, referring to what one US official has called the largest ground movement in Syria so far. 

"We will not discuss timelines or destination of the convoy for reasons of operational security. Once out of Syria, the forces in the convoy will eventually be re-positioned throughout the region. Protection of U.S. forces is our top priority and Coalition Forces have an inherent right of self-defense," the statement continues, "Kobani Landing Zone remains open to facilitate the additional movement of troops and equipment outside of Syria.”  

2:23 p.m. ET, October 20, 2019

16 Syrian Democratic Force and 1 Turkish soldier killed in past 24 hours

Attacks from the Turkish military and Turkish back militants have resulted in "16 martyrs and three wounded in our ranks," in a 24 hour period, according to an official statement released today by the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) press office.

Turkish forces and their allies continue to launch attacks on Syrian villages despite agreeing to a ceasefire, according to the statement, which says Turkish forces have targeted villages near Ras al-Ain "by aerial bombardments and brought in more troops and preparations for the ceasefire areas."

SDF forces have been targeted "with heavy weapons" in multiple villages, whilst the Turkish forces try to "advance with armored vehicles," according to the statement.  

Clashes erupted when the SDF responded to attacks "in the framework of their legitimate right to self-defense," the statement says.

SDF and Turkish Defense Ministry have both released statements accusing each other of violating the 120 ceasefire agreement.

The Turkish Defense Ministry tweeted on Sunday saying, "Despite the agreement with the US, there have been 22 harassment/violations," since the ceasefire began on Thursday. 

In a live broadcast on Turkey's Kanal 7 Capital Lobby program, the Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu said, "These terror organizations are committing these violations and harassment despite US instructions for them. We already do not trust a terrorist organization, however we saw once again that US should not trust them either."

Cavusoglu continued, "On one hand, the YPG/PKK terrorist organization is withdrawing, however on the other hand, harassment toward Turkey continues." 

Earlier Sunday, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that the US-brokered ceasefire in northern Syria "generally seems to be holding" despite "reports of intermittent fires," but he could not say who is committing those violations. 

12:13 p.m. ET, October 20, 2019

Largest US troop withdrawal from Syria underway

Hundreds of trucks carrying US personnel were observed by CNN gathering near Hasakah, Syria, en route east to the border with Iraq. 

A US official confirmed the ground move, the largest the US has made in Syria so far, marks the symbolic end of the major US presence in the region. 

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has said the withdrawal would take weeks. Sunday's move from US positions in Kobani, forms a substantial part of the overall withdrawal. 

Speaking to reporters Saturday aboard a US military aircraft en route to a refueling stop before heading to Afghanistan, Esper said those troops would be withdrawing via helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, and ground convoys.

Esper said the 1,000 troops are being deployed to two missions, “one is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-ISIS mission as we sort through the next steps.”

A senior US official later clarified that the location of the 1,000 troops is fluid, indicating it’s possible that not all 1,000 would be relocated to western Iraq. Any relocation out of Syria will be done in conjunction with host country governments, the official added.

11:16 a.m. ET, October 20, 2019

Mike Pompeo on Syria: "There's relatively little fighting"

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the situation in Syria on ABC’s “This Week” after the administration decided to withdraw US troops from the region.

Pompeo said he got a report this morning from senior leaders indicating there is “relatively little fighting” in the region. He said the hope is that the ceasefire between Turkish and Syrian-Kurdish forces will hold.

Pompeo said the administration is still committed to its efforts in the Middle East, including pushing back against Iran and fighting ISIS.

Pompeo also addressed concerns from many, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, that the incursion of Turks and displacement of Kurds in Northern Syria will essentially lead to an ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish people.

The secretary of state quelled this concern, saying that the statement the US released jointly with Turkey after negotiations this week made it clear there would not be attacks on minorities in the region.

When confronted with the observation that the Turks got everything they wanted out of the negotiation, Pompeo said “it sure didn’t feel that way when we were negotiating.”