Turkish air attacks in northern Syria threaten the safety of United States military personnel and the escalating situation is jeopardising years of progress against ISIL (ISIS) fighters, the Pentagon has said.
The public comments on Wednesday represent the strongest condemnation by the US of NATO ally Turkey’s air operations in recent days against Kurdish-led YPG (People’s Protection Units) forces in northern Syria to date.
“Recent air strikes in Syria directly threatened the safety of U.S. personnel who are working in Syria with local partners to defeat ISIS and maintain custody of more than ten thousand ISIS detainees,” the Pentagon’s spokesman, Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder, said in a statement.
Ryder said the escalating situation threatened the progress made in the fight against ISIL fighters in the region.
He added that the US recognises Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns”.
“Immediate de-escalation is necessary in order to maintain focus on the defeat-ISIS mission and ensure the safety and security of personnel on the ground committed to the defeat-ISIS mission,” Ryder added.
The comments from the US official come after Russia also warned against a Turkish ground operation in Syria.
The US has roughly 900 soldiers in Syria, mainly in the northeast of the country, who work with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is led by the YPG, to fight against ISIL remnants.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey’s air operations were only the beginning and that it would launch a land operation when convenient after an escalation in retaliatory strikes.
Ankara launched air operations at the weekend in retaliation for an Istanbul bomb attack a week earlier that killed six people, and which it blamed on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the YPG. Nobody has claimed responsibility and the PKK and YPG have denied involvement.
Turkey has previously launched military incursions in Syria against the YPG, regarding it as a wing of the outlawed PKK, which Turkey, the US and the European Union designate as a “terrorist” group.
The PKK and the YPG share close ideological ties.
This is not the first time Turkey’s operations in northern Syria have threatened US personnel. In 2019, American troops in the area came under artillery fire from Turkish positions as Turkey waged an offensive against US-allied Kurdish fighters at the time.
Turkey has repeatedly complained to the US that support for the YPG-led SDF undermines Washington’s position on the PKK and its commitment to Turkey’s security.
Erdogan maintains that Turkey will only be able to remove the threat from the PKK and the YPG by clearing the militias from the Turkey-Syria border and creating a “safe zone” in northern Syria.