Q: How do you see the situation in northeastern Syria developing?
Well we should be paying attention to what Turkey is doing on the ground and what their military objectives are. This will give us a good indication of how they intend to proceed in the days and weeks ahead and how they how they intend to conduct this campaign. So we certainly should be paying very close attention to that. Likewise we should be watching what the Kurds are doing and how they are reacting. I would expect in some areas we'll see them defend themselves and in other areas they will look to evacuate their citizens and perhaps their forces to get out of the reach of Turkish military objectives and perhaps, you know, preserve themselves for another day. I think we should always be on the lookout here for insurgent-type tactics that might be used against the Turks by the Kurds. We've seen this in Afrin before. And so I think we just have to pay very close attention in the next few days to get a good understanding of how this campaign will proceed.
Q: What concerns you the most?
I think what concerns me now about the current situation is that we may be creating an environment here where some of the other adversaries in the region can take advantage of the situation, whether it is ISIS looking for opportunities to resurge and exert more of their influence, or if it is an opportunity for the Assad regime, supported by their Iranian and Russian backers, to take advantage of the situation and put more pressure on this area. Ultimately I think the Assad regime wants to gain control over this area, so they may see this as an opportunity and that is something we should be very concerned about right now.
Q: What might this mean for the fight against ISIS?
Well for a long time now the United States and the United States-led coalition has provided enabling capabilities and advice to the Syrian Democratic Forces on the ground in northern Syria. And so that has helped us keep pressure on ISIS even after the physical defeat of the caliphate to continue to keep pressure to prevent them from resurging. As we pull back, our ability to do that may become less and again as the as the Syrian Democratic Forces begin to deal more with the Turkish operations in northern Syria, they may become less inclined to focus on ISIS, and so we have to be very concerned about that. And this lack of focus on ISIS could provide them an opportunity to resurge in a way that we've tried to prevent now for some time. So that's the principal thing that I'm concerned about with the kind of U.S. and coalition pullback, and what effect it might have on the fight against ISIS.
Q: What might happen to the ISIS detainees in SDF hands?
The Syrian Democratic Forces have been performing a very vital service for the international community by guarding detained fighters and by protecting these ISIS family members in the camps where they are currently located. So again, as the focus shifts to the Turkish military operation to make sure they can defend themselves and do what they determine they need to do, then what could happen here is we could lose control over that. So ISIS fighters could come out of the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces and go back to ISIS. It will be very important I think, as our president has said, for Turkey to ensure that that does not happen as part of their operation. So we'll see how that proceeds, but certainly I think the fighters will be trying to get out of that control that's over them right now and try to return back to ISIS. And again, these family members are in a very difficult situation as well. There are literally tens of thousands of them, and so they will need to go some place, they will need to be protected, they will need resources to take on life, and ultimately they'll need to return to some place where they came from so that they can move forward with their lives. So I think their future is very uncertain for both of these groups.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.