President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, where they had long kept an uneasy peace among competing forces, left the region in upheaval Sunday and the administration scrambling to respond to fast-moving events.
In urgent meetings and telephone conferences, top national security officials studied often-conflicting accounts of what was happening on the ground. In public appearances, Cabinet secretaries denied that the United States had “abandoned” its Syrian Kurdish allies to invading Turkish forces and threatened severe sanctions against Ankara.
“This is total chaos,” a senior administration official said at midday, speaking on the condition of anonymity about the confusing situation in Syria.Although “the Turks gave guarantees to us” that U.S. forces would not be harmed, the official said, Syrian militias allied with them “are running up and down roads, ambushing and attacking vehicles,” putting American forces — as well as civilians — in danger even as they withdraw. The militias, known as the Free Syrian Army, “are crazy and not reliable.”
At the same time, the official said, the Islamic State is active in the area, and there are reports that Russian and Syrian forces are moving in as well. “We obviously could not continue,” said the official, who called the situation “a total s—storm.”
Amid reports of Islamic State militants escaping prisons in the area, a U.S. official confirmed that the American forces had been unable to carry out plans to move several dozen high-value detainees to more secure locations, as first reported by the New York Times. One official said that multiple Kurdish-run detention facilities were now unguarded and that the U.S. military believed hundreds of detainees had escaped. …
Asked about Trump’s decision to play golf while much of his national security team was in crisis mode, the senior administration official said, “I can assure you, the president has been earning his money on the Syrian account in the last eight days.”