Pentagon Warns Ankara Against Ground Invasion in Syria

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin

After the Turkish retaliatory air strikes in northern Syria late last month targeted bases used by American forces and US-backed Kurdish fighters, endangering the US troops, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday warned his Turkish counterpart against new Turkish military operation in the country.

According to a Pentagon readout on the phone call, Austin conveyed his and the Department’s strong opposition to a new Turkish offensive, expressing concern over escalating actions such as the recent airstrikes that directly threatened the safety of US personnel working with Syrian partners to defeat Islamic State.

Washington has partnered, to Ankara’s dismay, with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which Turkey accused of masterminding the last month’s deadly bomb attack in Istanbul that killed six people and injured 80 more and prompted Turkey’s armed forces to initiate an air campaign in Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, suggested in late November that he also plans to order a ground invasion into northern Syria.

Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder informed Thursday that the US military is operating at a reduced number of partner patrols with the SDF since the Turkish strikes.

Noting that the US recognizes Turkey’s security concerns, Ryder also emphasized that the focus there is on the efforts to defeat IS in the region and preventing a destabilizing situation that would put the terrorist group in an ability to reconstitute.

As US media revealed on Monday, Washington has allegedly evacuated its civilian employees from the SDF-controlled areas in northeastern Syria to Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, amid Ankara’s threats to launch a ground military operation in the region.

The US consulate in Erbil also issued a warning a few weeks ago against travel to northern Syria and Iraq due to possible Turkish military action in those areas in the coming days as Ankara continues to target SDF assets and vital civilian infrastructure, especially oil facilities and power stations.

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