US forces found evidence of war crimes by Turks in Syria, says US official

James Jeffrey testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.
James Jeffrey testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump's special envoy for Syria said on Wednesday (Oct 23) that US forces had seen evidence of war crimes by Turkish forces in Syria, during their recent offensive against Kurds.

"We haven't seen widespread evidence of ethnic cleansing" by Turkey, but there had been reports of "several incidents of what we consider war crimes," said James Jeffrey, special representative for Syria, at a House of Representatives hearing.

He said US officials were looking into those reports and had demanded an explanation from Turkey's government.

He also said US officials were investigating a report that Turkey had used restricted burning white phosphorus during its offensive.

Mr Jeffrey and Matthew Palmer, a deputy assistant secretary of state who handles issues including relations with Turkey, spent a second straight day testifying in the US Congress.

Many lawmakers, including Mr Trump's fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, disagree with Mr 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 militants.

"How could the United States do something so senseless, so disgraceful, so contrary to our values?" Democratic Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said as he opened the hearing.

Mr Jeffrey also confirmed Secretary of Defence Mark Esper's statement that more than 100 Islamic State fighters had escaped. "We do not know where they are," Jeffrey told the hearing.

Mr Jeffrey had said in Senate testimony on Tuesday that "dozens" of the militants had escaped prison since the Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria began about two weeks ago.