Department of Defense Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan R. Hoffman said in a statement that the U.S. opposes Turkey’s “uncoordinated actions” in northern Syria as the NATO ally has pressed ahead with an offensive against a Syrian Kurd-led militia that has partnered with U.S. forces over the past five years to fight ISIS.
Turkey’s offensive has driven tens of thousands of people from their homes, the BBC reported, noting that at least 11 civilians have lost their lives. The British news outlet said dozens of fighters from the Kurdish-led SDF and pro-Turkish factions have been killed.
Al-Jazeera reported that “at least 342 Kurdish fighters” have been killed by Turkish forces.
Friday’s statement was the Pentagon’s most explicit criticism of the Turkish operation. President Donald Trump has called the invasion a “bad idea” and held out the possibility of the U.S. mediating a settlement.
‘Serious Consequences for Turkey’
Hoffman said in the statement that in a conversation with Turkey’s defense minister, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper “made it clear that the United States opposes Turkey’s uncoordinated actions as they place at risk the progress made by the Defeat-ISIS Coalition.”
The Pentagon spokesperson added that the incursion “risks serious consequences for Turkey” and that “despite U.S. force protection measures, Turkey’s actions could harm U.S. personnel in Syria.”
Turkey has long been at odds with the Kurdish forces and has consistently labeled them “terrorists.”
According to The Associated Press, a senior Turkish official in Washington suggested that the U.S. mediation offer would not be welcomed in Ankara due to Turkey’s opposition to negotiating with terrorists. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said previous efforts to broker deals with the Kurds had failed because negotiating “will not change their basic motivation and will not change their tactics.”
The official reiterated that Turkey would halt the operation and withdraw its forces only after the border area is cleared of “terrorists” but would not stay in Syria “one more day than is necessary.”
In an earlier statement, the Pentagon said that its “position has been and remains that establishing a safe zone in northern Syria is the best path forward to maintaining stability.”
“Unfortunately, Turkey has chosen to act unilaterally,” the Pentagon added. “As a result, we have moved the U.S. forces in northern Syria out of the path of potential Turkish incursion to ensure their safety. We have made no changes to our force presence in Syria at this time.”
In an earlier statement on Oct. 7, the Pentagon said the United States does not endorse the Turkish offensive and would not support the operation in any way.
“The Department of Defense made clear to Turkey—as did POTUS—that we do not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria. The U.S. Armed Forces will not support, or be involved in any such operation.”
Hoffman said in the statement that the “best path toward security in the area” was for the Pentagon and Turkish forces to co-ordinate actions.
The Department of Defense’s stated position came after Trump said early on Oct. 7 that the United States would be pulling out of Syria after protracted negotiations yielded little from allies and after American-led forces pummeled ISIS in the area.
Trump said that European countries and Turkey, among others, will be responsible for the captured ISIS fighters but that America wouldn’t be involved.
“It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their ‘neighborhood.’ They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!” Trump said in a series of Twitter posts.
….down, watching over a quagmire, & spending big dollars to do so. When I took over, our Military was totally depleted. Now it is stronger than ever before. The endless and ridiculous wars are ENDING! We will be focused on the big picture, knowing we can always go back & BLAST!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2019
He later added that he was elected in part because of his vow to get the United States out of the ongoing wars in the Middle East.
The U.S. has about 1,000 troops in Syria.
International aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis, with nearly a half-million people at risk near the border.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.