US President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Syria said on Wednesday that US forces had seen evidence of war crimes during Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds in Syria and that an explanation has been demanded from Ankara, Reuters reported.
“We haven’t seen widespread evidence of ethnic cleansing,” said James Jeffrey, special representative for Syria, at a hearing at the US House of Representatives.
“Many people fled because they’re very concerned about these Turkish-supported Syrian opposition forces, as we are. We’ve seen several incidents which we consider war crimes,” Jeffrey said.
He said US officials were looking into those reports and at “a high-level” had demanded an explanation from Turkey’s government. He also said US officials were investigating a report that the restricted burning white phosphorus had been used during the Turkish offensive.
Jeffrey and Matthew Palmer, a deputy assistant secretary of state who handles issues including relations with Turkey, spent a second straight day testifying before a congressional committee.
Many lawmakers, including Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, disagree with Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, which cleared the way for Turkish troops to cross the border to fight against Kurdish forces who for years helped US troops fight against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants.
“How could the United States do something so senseless, so disgraceful, so contrary to our values?” Democratic congressman Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said as he opened the hearing.
Jeffrey called Turkey’s crossing of the border and offensive against the Kurds “a tragic disaster for northeast Syria.”
As the hearing took place, Trump announced he was lifting recent sanctions imposed in response to violence in Syria, after Turkey said it was stopping combat and making a ceasefire in northern Syria permanent.
Jeffrey also confirmed Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s statement that more than 100 ISIL fighters had escaped. “We do not know where they are,” Jeffrey told the hearing.