Turkish airstrikes in northern Syria threaten the safety of US military personnel, and the escalating situation jeopardizes years of progress against ISIL fighters (ISIS), according to the Pentagon.
Wednesday’s public comments are the harshest US condemnation of NATO ally Turkey’s air operations that have taken place in recent days against Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) troops in northern Syria.
“The recent air strikes in Syria directly threatened the safety of US personnel working in Syria with local partners to defeat IS and maintain the custody of more than ten thousand ISIS detainees,” Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder said in a statement.
Ryder said the escalating situation jeopardizes progress in the fight against ISIL fighters in the region.
He added that the US recognizes Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns.”
“Immediate de-escalation is needed to remain focused on the Defeat-ISIS mission and ensure the safety of local personnel dedicated to the Defeat-ISIS mission,” Ryder added.
The US official’s comments come after Russia also warned of a Turkish ground operation in Syria.
The US has around 900 troops in Syria, mainly in the northeast of the country, who are working with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the YPG, to fight against remnants of ISIL.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkish air operations were just the beginning and that, following an escalation of retaliatory strikes, it would launch land operations if necessary.
Ankara launched air operations over the weekend in retaliation for a bomb attack in Istanbul a week earlier that killed six people, for which the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the YPG were blamed. No one has claimed responsibility and the PKK and YPG have denied involvement.
Turkey has previously launched military raids against the YPG in Syria, viewing it as a wing of the banned PKK, described as a “terrorist” group by Turkey, the US and the European Union.
The PKK and the YPG are closely linked ideologically.
This is not the first time that Turkish operations in northern Syria have threatened US personnel. In 2019, American troops in the region came under artillery fire from Turkish positions as Turkey led an offensive against Kurdish fighters allied with the US at the time.
Turkey has repeatedly complained to the US that support for the YPG-led SDF is undermining Washington’s position on the PKK and its commitment to Turkey’s security.
Erdogan claims that Turkey will only be able to eliminate the threat posed by the PKK and the YPG by removing the militias from the Turkish-Syrian border and creating a “security zone” in northern Syria.