The renewed hostilities between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish fighters have rattled the United States, which repeatedly warned on Tuesday that the fighting would only benefit the Islamic State terrorist group.
Senior U.S. officials acknowledged Turkey’s right to protect itself from terrorist attacks, but warned that recent Turkish airstrikes and rocket attacks by Syrian Kurdish forces were undermining efforts to contain and weaken the Islamic State.
“We oppose any military action to destabilize the situation in Syria,” U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. Jobuccino told VOA by email.
“These actions threaten our common goals, including the continued fight against ISIS to ensure that the group never resurfaces and threatens the region,” he added, using another acronym for the terrorist group.
The U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS has also called for de-escalation, sending the message across social media.
“These attacks endanger the safety of civilians, undermine hard-won stability in the region, and undermine our common goal of defeating ISIS,” the coalition tweeted.
Defense officials in Washington sought to emphasize that message later in the day, adding that U.S. officials had been in touch with Turkey and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
“We continue to urge all parties to de-escalate, and in our conversations we have stated publicly that these attacks from all sides jeopardize our mission to defeat ISIS,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said at a conference. Briefing Tuesday, answering questions from VOA.
While relations between Washington and Ankara have been strained in recent years, the United States and Turkey are longtime allies and Turkey is a key member of NATO.
But officials in Ankara were angered by Washington’s willingness to work with the Kurdish-led SDF to defeat ISIS.
Many members of the SDF are from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian affiliate of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and Washington.
From Turkey’s point of view, SDF and YPG are the same thing. Turkish officials have recently launched attacks against the two groups after they blamed them for the Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that killed at least eight people and injured dozens more.
Both the YPG and the Self-Defense Forces have denied involvement in the bombing, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that despite calls for restraint from the United States and others, justice was far from done.
“We have been fighting terrorists with our planes, artillery and guns for several days,” Erdogan said in a speech. “God forbid, we will eradicate all these people as soon as possible, along with our tanks, our Soldier.”
Turkish officials claimed to have killed or captured more than 180 Kurdish militants during the operation, while blaming the YPG and the Self-Defense Forces for killing at least three civilians and wounding at least six others in cross-border mortar attacks.
Meanwhile, Syrian Kurdish officials have accused Turkey of launching airstrikes specifically aimed at undercutting efforts to fight the Islamic State.
“Turkey’s airstrikes are a clear message that the Islamic State terrorist group wants,” SDF spokesman Farhad Shami said on Twitter late Tuesday, referring to the al-Makman bombing reported to be 70 kilometers from the Turkish border. Air raid on the village.
“The area is where operations against ISIS are taking place, and our forces with the international coalition are regularly hunting ISIS there,” Shami added.
Earlier, Sinam Mohamad, the U.S. representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the SDF’s political arm, tweeted that another Turkish airstrike hit a base used by the SDF’s anti-terrorist forces and the U.S.
Two members of the anti-terrorist unit were killed, she said.
U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the region, confirmed the attack in an email to VOA late Tuesday.
“While there were no U.S. troops on the base when the attack was launched this morning, these actions do put U.S. forces fighting ISIS in Syria at risk,” the statement said.
The United States has about 900 troops in Syria and another 2,500 in Iraq as part of an ongoing effort to contain and defeat ISIS.
“We will continue to monitor what is happening on the ground and keep our troops safe,” the Pentagon’s Singh told reporters Tuesday, adding that “there is no change in the posture of our troops at this time.”
Dorian Jones contributed to this report.