Turkey has stepped up its airstrikes into northern Syria since the November 13 bombing in Istanbul.
Turkish airstrikes in northern Syria threaten the safety of US military personnel, and an escalation of the situation threatens years of progress against ISIL (ISIS) militants, the Pentagon said.
Wednesday’s public comments represent the strongest US condemnation of NATO ally Turkey’s air operations in recent days against the Kurdish-led YPG (People’s Protection Units) forces in northern Syria.
“The recent airstrikes in Syria have directly threatened the safety of U.S. personnel who are working in Syria with local partners to defeat ISIS and sustain more than 10,000 ISIS detainees,” said Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder. statement.
Ryder said the escalation of the situation was threatening progress against ISIL militants in the region.
He added that the United States recognizes Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns.”
“Immediate de-escalation is necessary to maintain focus on the mission to defeat ISIS and to ensure the safety of personnel on the ground involved in the mission to defeat ISIS,” Ryder added.
The US official’s comments came after Russia also warned against a Turkish ground operation in Syria.
The US has about 900 troops in Syria, mainly in the northeastern part of the country, who are working with the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in fighting the remnants of ISIL.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey’s air operations are only the beginning and that after an escalation of retaliatory attacks, Turkey will launch a ground operation when it is convenient.
Ankara launched air operations over the weekend in retaliation for a bomb attack in Istanbul a week earlier that killed six people, which it blamed on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the YPG. No one claimed responsibility, and the PKK and YPG denied involvement.
Turkey has previously carried out military incursions into Syria against the YPG, considering them to be a wing of the outlawed PKK, which Turkey, the United States and the European Union describe as a “terrorist” group.
The PKK and the YPG have close ideological ties.
This is not the first time Turkish operations in northern Syria have threatened US personnel. In 2019, US troops in the area came under artillery fire from Turkish positions as Turkey launched an offensive against US-allied Kurdish fighters.
Turkey has repeatedly complained to the United States that its support for the YPG-led SDF undermines Washington’s stance on the PKK and its commitment to Turkey’s security.
Erdogan maintains that Turkey will only be able to remove the PKK and YPG threat by removing militias from the Turkish-Syrian border and creating a “safe zone” in northern Syria.