The Pentagon indirectly accused Turkey of endangering US troops based in Syria after air strikes targeted bases used by American forces and US-backed Kurdish fighters.
“Recent air strikes in Syria directly threatened the safety of US personnel who are working in Syria with local partners to defeat ISIS and maintain custody of more than ten thousand ISIS detainees,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement late Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the US military acknowledged that a drone strike during Turkey’s latest military campaign against Kurdish fighters in Syria came close to the base used by the Americans. But the strike did not endanger the lives of any US personnel, American officials initially said.
However, that changed on Wednesday when the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said the Turkish air strikes had placed US troops at “risk.”
On Wednesday, an unnamed Pentagon official told Voice of America that American troops were within 300 meters of the base in northeastern Syria’s al-Hasakah.
This was discussed in an early morning call between the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and his Turkish counterpart. The Pentagon’s readout of the call said the two generals discussed “several items of mutual strategic interest” and that Turkey is a “key NATO ally.” No specific mention of the strikes in Syria was mentioned, although sources familiar with the call say that was the focal point of their discussion.
In the statement from Ryder on Wednesday night, the Pentagon said it was “deeply concerned” by the escalation actions in northern Syria, Iraq and Turkey.
“This escalation threatens the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS’s yearslong progress to degrade and defeat ISIS,” Ryder said. US officials, including President Joe Biden, have previously accused Ankara and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of undermining the fight against ISIS due to military campaigns against the US-backed Kurds.
Turkey has been furious with Washington in recent years as the US partners with the Syrian Democratic Forces to fight ISIS inside of Syria and Iraq.
Turkish forces have also recently bombed Kurdish targets in Iraq, attributing these attacks to a necessary response to last week’s bomb attack in Istanbul.
Turkey blamed a Kurdish militia for being behind the attack.
On Sunday, Turkey said it destroyed 89 Kurdish targets in Syria and Iraq.
The Pentagon said uncoordinated military actions threatened Iraq’s sovereignty, in an apparent reference to the Turkish air strikes in Iraq.
“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,” the Pentagon’s press secretary said.
He added that the US recognized Turkey’s security concerns but noted that Washington was worried about the “deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure.”
Reports indicated that Turkish air strikes destroyed a hospital, a power grid, and grain silos in Syria.
But more fighting could ensue in the coming days as Turkey’s Erdogan has vowed to push ahead with a land operation against Kurdish fighters.
The US, meanwhile, has been urging de-escalation from all sides in a bid to avert more violence between two key US allies.