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Turkish air strikes on Syria threaten US personnel: Pentagon

Turkey has stepped up airstrikes on northern Syria since the Nov. 13 Istanbul bombing.

Turkish airstrikes in northern Syria threaten the safety of US military personnel, and the escalating situation jeopardizes years of advances against ISIL (ISIS) fighters, the Pentagon said.

Wednesday’s public comments represent the US’s harshest condemnation of NATO-ally Turkey’s air operations in recent days against Kurdish-led YPG (People’s Defense Units) forces in northern Syria.

“The recent airstrikes in Syria directly threatened the safety of US personnel working in Syria with local partners to defeat ISIS and detain more than ten thousand ISIS detainees,” said Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Brigadier General, Pat Ryder, in a statement.

Ryder said the escalating situation is threatening progress in the fight against ISIL militants in the region.

He added that the US recognizes Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns”.

“Immediate de-escalation is necessary to maintain focus on the Defeat ISIS mission and to ensure the safety of personnel on the ground committed to the Defeat ISIS mission,” Ryder added.

The US official’s comments come after Russia also warned of a Turkish ground operation in Syria.

The US has around 900 troops in Syria, mostly in the northeast of the country, who are working with the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to fight what remains of ISIS.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkey’s air operations are just the beginning and that after an escalation in retaliatory strikes, it will launch a land operation when appropriate.

Ankara launched air operations over the weekend in retaliation for a bomb attack in Istanbul a week earlier that killed six people and was blamed on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the YPG. No one has claimed responsibility and the PKK and YPG have denied involvement.

Turkey has previously launched military incursions into Syria against the YPG, viewing them as a wing of the banned PKK, which Turkey, the US and the European Union describe as a “terrorist” group.

The PKK and the YPG have close ideological ties.

This is not the first time Turkey’s operations in northern Syria have threatened US personnel. In 2019, American troops in the region came under artillery fire from Turkish positions when Turkey was conducting an offensive against US-allied Kurdish fighters.

Turkey has repeatedly complained to the US that supporting the YPG-led SDF undermines Washington’s position on the PKK and its commitment to Turkey’s security.

Erdogan claims that Turkey will only be able to eliminate the PKK and YPG threat by clearing militias from the Turkish-Syrian border and creating a “safe zone” in northern Syria.

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