U.S. Slams Turkey for Bombing Pentagon's Kurdish Allies in Syria

Updated on
  • Strikes lacked ‘proper coordination’ with allies: State Dept.
  • Erdogan had warned of a ‘terrorist’ threat across border

Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq, including fighters who are U.S. allies in the battle against Islamic State, drawing rebukes from the State Department and Pentagon.

The Turkish military said the attacks early Tuesday centered on Mount Sinjar in Iraq and Mount Karakoc in Syria, areas near Turkey’s borders with the two countries, and were intended to disrupt supply lines and prevent Kurdish fighters from infiltrating Turkey. The airstrikes were Turkey’s first in Syria since it announced the end of a ground operation against Kurdish militants and Islamic State there in March, without withdrawing its troops.

Read more on recent Turkish operations Erdogan: Turkey’s Syria Operations Not Over, Iraq Next

The strike in Syria hit the area where the headquarters of the YPG, a Kurdish militia, are located, killing and wounding an unspecified number of fighters, according to the group itself and local media reports. Turkey classifies the YPG as terrorists, while the U.S. sees it as one of the most effective allies against Islamic State and has deployed special forces to work alongside the group. The division has fueled tensions between the NATO allies.

The U.S. is “deeply concerned” that Turkey carried out the attacks “without proper coordination either with the United States, or the broader global coalition to defeat ISIS,” and those concerns have been conveyed to the government in Ankara, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington. He used the department’s preferred acronym for Islamic State.

Personnel Threatened

Turkey has called on the U.S. to end support for Syrian Kurdish groups including the YPG, saying it’s an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization not only by Turkey but also the U.S. and the European Union.

The dispute may prove critical to President Donald Trump’s plan for driving Islamic State out of its Syrian stronghold in Raqqa. Kurdish forces from the YPG have been leading the advance toward the city, the jihadists’ self-proclaimed capital. Turkey has repeatedly offered to send its own troops to do the job, a proposal that’s so far met with little enthusiasm from the Pentagon.

The U.S. recognizes the threat that the PKK poses to Turkey, “but Turkey cannot pursue that fight at the expense of our common fight against terrorists that threaten us all,” Marine Corps Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Defense Defense Department spokesman, said in an emailed statement. He said that, given the “extraordinarily complex battlespace,” coordination among allies is essential to “maintain maximum pressure on ISIS and ensure the safety of all Coalition personnel in theater.”

The decision to hit positions held by the PKK outside Turkey was made after a slew of attacks against military outposts near the borders with Iraq and Syria, the Turkish military said. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier singled out Mount Sinjar as a possible target, saying “terrorists” were trying to turn the area into a launchpad for attacks against Turkey.

The lira extended losses after news of the air operation and was trading 0.3 percent lower at 9:55 p.m. in Istanbul.

The Turkish attacks in Iraq also killed five members of the Kurdish armed forces of northern Iraq, a separate group known as Peshmerga who have friendly ties with Turkey as well as the U.S. Their general command said those casualties were the result of the PKK presence around Sinjar, “which has been problematic for the people of the Kurdistan region.”

— With assistance by Khalid Al Ansary, and Firat Kozok

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