US Calls for De-Escalation as Fighting Between Turkey, Syrian Kurds Escalates

Renewed hostilities between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish fighters have not gone down well with the United States, which warned on Tuesday that the fighting would only benefit the Islamic State terrorist group.

Senior US officials acknowledge that Turkey has the right to defend itself against terrorist attacks, but have warned that recent Turkish airstrikes and missile attacks by Syrian Kurdish forces are undermining efforts by all parties to contain and degrade IS.

“We oppose any military action that destabilizes the situation in Syria,” Col. Joe Buccino, a spokesman for US Central Command, told VOA in an email.

“These actions threaten our shared goals, including the continued fight against ISIS, to ensure that the group never re-emerges and threatens the region,” he added, using another acronym for the terror group.

The US-led coalition to defeat IS also issued a statement on social media and called for de-escalation.

“These strikes threaten the safety of civilians, undermine the hard-fought stability in the region, and undermine our shared goal of defeating ISIS,” the coalition tweeted.

Defense officials in Washington tried to play down the report later in the day, adding that US officials were also in contact with Turkey and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

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“We encourage all sides to de-escalate, in our conversations and in our public statements, these strikes on all sides must jeopardize our mission to defeat ISIS,” said Sabrina Singh, deputy spokeswoman for the Pentagon. Tuesday briefing, responding to a question from VOA.

Although relations between Washington and Ankara have been strained in recent years, the US and Turkey are longtime allies, and Turkey is also a key member of NATO.

But Ankara officials are bitter about Washington’s willingness to partner with the Kurdish-led SDF in an effort to defeat IS.

Most of the SDF’s members come from the Turkey-based People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), designated a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington.

In Turkey’s view, SDG and YPG are one and the same. And Turkish authorities launched the latest crackdown on the two groups after they blamed them for a Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that killed at least eight people and wounded dozens.

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Both the YPG and the SDF have denied involvement in the bombing, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that the search for justice was far from over, despite calls for restraint from the US and others.

In his speech, Erdogan said: “We have been attacking terrorists with our planes, cannons and guns for several days. “God willing, together with our tanks and soldiers, we will destroy all of them from the roots as soon as possible,” he said.

Turkish authorities claim to have killed or captured more than 180 Kurdish fighters during the operation, while the YPG and SDF have accused the YPG and SDF of killing at least three civilians and wounding six others in cross-border mortar fire.

Meanwhile, Syrian Kurdish authorities have accused Turkey of carrying out targeted airstrikes to weaken efforts to combat IS.

“Turkey’s airstrikes are a clear message of hope for ISIS terrorist cells,” SDF spokesman Farhad Shami tweeted late Tuesday, referring to the airstrikes on the village of al-Makman, 70 kilometers from the border with Turkey.

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Shami added: “Operations against ISIS cells are underway in this area and our forces with the international coalition are chasing ISIS cells there.”

Earlier, Sinam Mohamad, a representative of the US political wing of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), wrote on Twitter that a separate Turkish airstrike hit a base used by the anti-terrorist units of the SDC and the US.

According to him, two officers of the anti-terror department were killed.

US Central Command, which oversees US forces in the region, confirmed the strike in a letter to VOA on Tuesday evening.

“Although there were no US forces on the base at the time of this morning’s strike, these actions put at risk US forces operating to defeat ISIS in Syria,” the statement said.

The US has about 900 troops in Syria and another 2,500 in Iraq.

“We will continue to monitor what’s happening on the ground and make sure our forces are safe,” Pentagon spokesman Singh told reporters on Tuesday.

Dorian Jones contributed to this report.

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