Esper's earlier comments to reporters traveling with him were the first to specifically lay out where American troops will go as they shift from Syria and what the counter-IS fight could look like.
He's referring to the 1,000 US troops that were pulled back from northern Syria.
The U.S. defense chief was traveling as a fragile cease-fire, negotiated by the U.S. and Turkey, was underway in Syria - but according to Reuters some Turkish military vehicles crossed into Syria on Saturday, and Turkish officials claimed aboyt 14 "provocative attacks" had been launched from the Syrian side.
The Turkish military's death toll has risen to seven soldiers since it launched its offensive on October 9.
The withdrawal brings to a close America's military presence in northern Syria and effectively abandons its ally, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, to Turkish firepower. The move drew widespread criticism as it resulted in the abandonment of America's Kurdish allies, who have been fighting for years alongside the U.S.in their battle against ISIS.
Esper said the troops going into Iraq will have two missions. The new mission for those troops would be to "help defend Iraq" and carry out a counter-ISIS mission. Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who resigned in December, said in a recent interview with CBS News that he reached his breaking point with the Trump administration after the President chose to withdraw USA troops from war-torn Syria.
In 2017, Trump deployed additional troops in Afghanistan to bring the force to about 14,000 but cautioned against making announcements on planned troop withdrawals. But he said plans would be developed over time and include discussions with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies in the coming days.
U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said Monday that forces now deployed in Syria aren't coming home and the U.S. won't be leaving the Middle East yet. Amid worldwide backlash, Trump insisted that protecting the Kurds was not the job of the U.S., but also threatened Turkey with economic sanctions if the operation continued.
US defense chief Mark Esper visiting Afghanistan to assess the way ahead
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Dozens of Kurdish fighters left on pick-up trucks which passed by checkpoints manned by pro-Turkish Syrian rebel fighters, the reporter said.
The SDF says it had evacuated its fighters from the northern town of Ras al-Ayn Sunday.
"Protecting religious and ethnic minorities in the region continues to be a focus for the administration".
"I can't assess whether that's true or not without having people on the ground", said Esper.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, center, walks Gen. Scott Miller, right, chief of the U.S. -led coalition in Afghanistan, at the U.S. military headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. Instead, they'll relocate to western Iraq where they will continue to fight ISIS both in Iraq, and potentially still in Syria, according to The Associated Press. The U.S. forces have been largely consolidated in one location in the West and a few locations in the East.
The US and the Taliban were last month on the brink of signing a deal that would have seen some American forces begin to withdraw from Afghanistan in return for various insurgent security commitments.
A White House official said GOP Sen.
Ankara views the Kurds, who have been fighting with United States troops against ISIS since 2014, a terror organization aligned with an insurgent group inside Turkey.