The Pentagon has urged Turkey to back off its plan to invade Syria as the operation could endanger US troops in the country.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin offered his condolences to his counterpart Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar over the loss of life in last month’s Istanbul bombings that prompted military action in Syria.
But Austin stressed that the air strikes – and the impending ground invasion of Syria – directly threaten the safety of US personnel working in Syria.
“Secretary Austin has called for de-escalation and shared the Department’s strong opposition to a new Turkish military operation in Syria,” according to one reading of the call between Austin and Akar.
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Turkey has launched a series of air strikes in northern Syria following a Nov. 13 shelling that killed six and injured at least 80 others.
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Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan has authorized a military response in Syria, called “Operation Sword-Claw”, which aimed to eliminate the People’s Defense Units (YPG) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
A Kurdish general told Fox News last week that NATO ally Turkey is planning to carry out a massive ground invasion of Syria in an attempt to target the same Kurdish groups that have collaborated with the US military in its campaign against ISIS.
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US military officials have also expressed concern that the operation could end up providing an opportunity for some 10,000 ISIS detainees to escape confinement.
Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said Wednesday, “The recent air strikes in Syria have directly threatened the safety of US personnel who are working in Syria with local partners to defeat ISIS and maintain custody of more than 10,000 ISIS detainees”.
Ryder noted that “an immediate de-escalation is needed to maintain focus on the ISIL defeat mission and ensure the safety and security of field personnel engaged in the ISIL defeat mission.”
A military official said Syria presents ideal conditions for ISIS to continue growing its ranks and regain its former operational capability: CENTCOM head General Erik Kurilla visited al-Hol refugee camp in Syria and said ISIS tried to exploit the conditions in the field as a means of gaining new recruits to his cause.
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“The SDF mission to liberate ISIS from the camp continues – this is a critical and wide-ranging operation that will make the camp safer for all residents,” Kurilla said after his visit. “We have already seen ISIS members keeping women and girls slaves in chains inside the camp, torturing the camp residents and trying to spread their vile ideology.”
Benjamin Weinthal of Fox News contributed to this report.