Turkish forces approached a key Kurdish-held town in northern Syria on Sunday, setting off clashes that allowed hundreds of Islamic State supporters to escape from a camp for displaced people near a U.S.-led coalition base, Syrian Kurdish officials said.
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Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered all U.S. troops in northern Syria to move south, but not leave the country.
Esper told CBS' "Face the Nation" that the conflict between Turkish forces and U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters had become "untenable" for the U.S. military. Esper added that Turkey's invasion of Syria “appears to be” a war crime.
A U.S. military official earlier said the situation across northeastern Syria was "deteriorating rapidly" and that American forces no longer control ground communications with the Syrian Kurdish fighters they had previously partnered with.
A Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighter holds a weapon as he stands with his fellow fighters near the border town of Tel Abyad, Syria, October 12, 2019. KHALIL ASHAWI/ REUTERS
The official, who was not authorized to disclose operational details and spoke on condition of anonymity, said U.S. troops on the ground are at risk of being "isolated" and could clash with Turkey-backed Syrian forces.