Pentagon Urges Turkey To Halt Incursion Into Syria

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon on Friday urged Turkey to halt its military incursion into Syria, saying it threatens progress in combating the Islamic State group and risks harm to U.S. troops.

It was the Pentagon’s most explicit criticism of the Turkish operation, which began Wednesday as a campaign against a Syrian Kurd-led militia that has partnered with U.S. forces over the past five years to fight the Islamic State.

President Donald Trump has called the invasion a “bad idea” and held out the possibility of the U.S. mediating a settlement.

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.”

The Pentagon had said before the operation began that the U.S. military would not support it, but it had not openly criticized the invasion. The U.S. pulled about 30 special operations troops out of observation posts along the invasion route on the Syrian border.

In a written statement, the chief Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said that in a phone call Thursday with his Turkish counterpart, Defense Secretary Mark Esper “made it clear” that the U.S. opposes the incursion.

Hoffman said Esper told Defense Minister Hulusi Akar that his government’s military actions “place at risk” the progress made to defeat the extremists, and Esper urged Turkey to stop its incursion. Turkey views elements of the U.S.-backed Syrian militia as terrorists and a border threat.

“While the secretary reaffirmed we value our strategic bilateral relationship, this incursion risks serious consequences for Turkey,” Hoffman said. “The secretary also reiterated his strong concern that, despite U.S. force protection measures, Turkey’s actions could harm U.S. personnel in Syria.”

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.

Esper “strongly encouraged Turkey to discontinue actions in northeastern Syria in order to increase the possibility that the United States, Turkey and our partners could find a common way to deescalate the situation before it becomes irreparable,” Hoffman said.

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke by phone Wednesday with his Turkish counterpart to discuss the security situation in Syria. Details were not released.

Esper and Milley planned to hold a noon news conference to discuss Syria.

The Turkish incursion has complicated U.S. military efforts in the region, even as Washington seeks to deter Iran from further attacks on Saudi Arabia following a drone and cruise missile assault in September that damaged key Saudi oil facilities. In response, the U.S. said it as deploying additional air defenses to Saudi Arabia.

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