After airstrikes hit bases used by American forces and US-backed Kurdish militants, the Pentagon implied that Turkey was putting US personnel stationed in Syria in danger.
In a statement released late on Wednesday, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder claimed the recent airstrikes in Syria “directly threatened the safety of US personnel who are working in Syria with local partners to defeat ISIS and maintain custody of more than ten thousand ISIS detainees.”
But on Wednesday, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) declared that the Turkish airstrikes had put US personnel in “danger.”
An unnamed Pentagon official told Voice of America on Wednesday that American troops were 300 meters or less from the facility in al-Hasakah, Syria’s northeast.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his Turkish counterpart spoke about this during an early morning call. The two generals spoke on “several items of mutual strategic interest,” according to the readout of the call provided by the Pentagon, adding Turkey is a “key NATO ally.” Although sources familiar with the call claim that was the main topic of their discussion, the strikes in Syria were not specifically mentioned in the conversation.
The US military acknowledged on Tuesday that a drone attack during Turkey’s most recent military operation against Syrian Kurdish rebels came quite close to an American facility. However, as American officials initially claimed, no US personnel’s lives were in danger as a result of the strike.
The Pentagon expressed its “deep concern” about the escalation measures in northern Syria, Iraq, and Turkey in a statement from Ryder on Wednesday night.
“This escalation threatens the years of progress made by the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS to degrade and defeat ISIS,” Ryder warned. Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ankara have previously been charged by US officials, including President Joe Biden, with weakening the war against ISIS by military operations against the Kurds who get US support.
As the US collaborates with the Syrian Democratic Forces to combat ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Turkey has grown increasingly enraged with Washington.
Kurdish targets in Iraq have also recently been bombed by Turkish forces, who claim that these actions were necessary in response to the bombing of Istanbul last week.
Turkey claimed that a Kurdish militia was responsible for the assault. Turkey claimed to have destroyed 89 Kurdish sites in Syria and Iraq on Sunday.
Uncoordinated military actions, in apparent reference to Turkish airstrikes in Iraq, were seen by the Pentagon as a danger to Iraq’s sovereignty.
“Immediate de-escalation is necessary in order to maintain focus on the defeat-ISIS mission and ensure the safety and security of personnel on the ground committed to the defeat-ISIS mission,” the Pentagon’s press secretary said.
He continued by saying that while the US understood Turkey’s security concerns, it was concerned about “deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure.”
According to reports, Turkish airstrikes in Syria destroyed a hospital, a power grid, and grain silos.
However, as Erdogan of Turkey has promised to move forward with a land operation against Kurdish fighters, more fighting may break out in the coming days.
In an effort to prevent further violence between two important US allies, the US has been pleading for a de-escalation from all parties.
Seth Frantzman, a Middle East security analyst and author of Drone Wars, said Turkey was trying to remove US forces from Syria. “The end goal of Ankara is to get rid of the US in Syria so it can sign a deal with the Syrian regime and work with Russia and Iran to control Syria. It will ethnically cleanse minorities to do that also,” he tweeted.
For his part, Aaron Stein said that there has been an “inherent tension” between the US and Turkey over Syria “from the beginning.”
According to Stein, US forces have long been in close proximity to Turkish drones being used in Syria, but they have not received specific instructions on what to do in this situation. What are the [rules of engagement]? Do you shoot them down or do you let them go? This drone resides in the ambiguous middle, he said.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, US Senator Bob Menendez, also claimed that the attacks by Turkey had resulted in the deaths of civilians and the destruction of vital civilian infrastructure, undermining the fight against ISIS. The Democratic senator tweeted, “These are not the actions of an ally.”