JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Washington (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday he was open to new alterations in U.S. military activity on the Korean Peninsula if it helped enable diplomats, who are trying to jump-start stalled peace efforts with North Korea.
Esper did not predict whether he might end up "dialing up or dialing down" such activity, as he spoke to a small group of reporters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on his way to South Korea after North Korea threatened to retaliate if the United States goes ahead with scheduled military drills with South Korea.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday casually brushed aside the disturbing news that, holy shit, MORE THAN 100 ISIS FIGHTERS HAVE ESCAPED FROM JAIL.
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Esper essentially turned this fact into a positive, no doubt impressing public relations and political talking heads everywhere with some truly masterful spin.
"Of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports that a little more than a hundred have escaped," Esper said, adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces were continuing to guard prisons, and the Pentagon had not "seen this big prison break that we all expected."
Well, I feel better. How about you?
On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy in charge of the global coalition to defeat ISIS said much the same, while adding another cherry on top: The United States has no idea where those 100+ fighters went.
"We do not know where they are," James Jeffrey told members of Congress of the 100+ escaped detainees. ISIS has about 18,000 "members" left in Iraq and Syria, according to recent Pentagon estimates.
A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday the White House's understanding is that the SDF continues to keep the "vast majority" of ISIS fighters under "lock and key."
"It's obviously a fluid situation on the ground that we're monitoring closely," the official said, adding that released fighters will be "hunted down and recaptured." The official said it was Turkey's responsibility to do so.
President Trump expressed optimism on Wednesday about what was happening on the ground in northeast Syria, when he announced that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds was expected to be made permanent.
"Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," Trump said. "We have done them a great service and we've done a great job for all of them — and now we're getting out."
The president boasted that the U.S.-brokered ceasefire had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds "without spilling one drop of American blood."
Combat valor awards are often given to service members months or years after the action is carried out, as nominations stall within the Pentagon’s bureaucracy, but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis believes this is unacceptable. And it turns out that one of his first initiatives in taking office was to change that.