Army Secretary Says It's OK for Soldiers to Sound Off on Syria Withdrawal

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FILE – Then Army Under Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy outlined the Army's key priorities for Army Futures Command and its potential impact to the force during the opening ceremony at the 2018 Association of the U.S. Army Global Force Symposium and Exhibition, March 26, 2018. (U.S. Army/ Devon Suits)
FILE – Then Army Under Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy outlined the Army's key priorities for Army Futures Command and its potential impact to the force during the opening ceremony at the 2018 Association of the U.S. Army Global Force Symposium and Exhibition, March 26, 2018. (U.S. Army/ Devon Suits)

Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said today that he wasn't surprised that Green Berets in Syria were expressing their opinions that the decision to pull back from Northern Syria constituted a betrayal to Kurdish allies.

The Trump administration's recent decision not to defend against a Turkish military incursion into northern Syria, followed by a move to pull U.S. forces out of the region to avoid clashes with the invading units, sparked outrage among some U.S. Special Forces, who have been quoted in several media outlets as saying they felt ashamed that America was leaving Kurdish fighters behind.

"They trusted us, and we broke that trust," one Army officer who worked alongside the Kurds in northern Syria said in an Oct. 13 New York Times story.

Another Green Beret said the Oct. 6 White House decision to leave Kurdish forces as Turkish military forces were preparing to invade Northern Syria was "insanity," Jenifer Griffin of Fox News reported.

"I am ashamed for the first time in my career," the soldier told Griffin.

Related: US Troop Morale at Risk Amid Withdrawal from Northern Syria, Mattis Says

During a press conference at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C., McCarthy said it's normal for soldiers in such a complex situation to express their opinions.

"I think more and more soldiers are very candid about how they feel; I like candor, it's important to have that," McCarthy said. "Everybody has opinions; it's a war of ideas. But ultimately, when national policy decisions are made, we salute and move out."

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday that all U.S. troops were being withdrawn from northern Syria following an incident on Friday when an American observation post came under Turkish cross-border artillery fire in the Syrian town of Kobane, which is roughly 50 miles west of the area Turkish Forces crossed into Syria.

No one was hurt in the shelling, which impacted a few hundred meters from U.S. positions. Turkish officials stressed that the American forces were not targeted intentionally and was the result of defensive fire after Turkish border positions came under attack.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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