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Pentagon calls on Turks, Kurds to stand down

The Pentagon is calling on both NATO ally Turkey and Kurdish forces, which the United States supports in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), to stand down after a weekend of clashes in Syria.

“This is an already crowded battle space,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a written statement. “Accordingly, we are calling on all armed actors to stand down immediately and take appropriate measures to de-conflict.”

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Over the weekend, Turkey launched airstrikes against the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG.

Monitoring groups have reported dozens of civilians killed in the strikes, which Turkey has denied. There were also reports of clashes on the ground between Turkish forces, Turkish-backed rebels groups and Kurdish forces.

A Turkish soldier was reportedly killed when two tanks were hit by rocket fire from Kurdish forces, according to the Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency.

Last week, Turkey began a major offensive against ISIS in northern Syria with U.S. support. The offensive provided Syrian rebels with enough firepower to quickly take back the border town of Jarabulus, which had been essential to ISIS’s ability to move in and out of Syria.

But Turkey's incursion into Syria also had the dual goal of making sure the YPG didn’t capture Jarabulus first.

Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group that’s connected to the Kurdish separatists within its own borders. Meanwhile, the United States considers the Kurds one of the most effective groups fighting ISIS in Syria.

On Monday, Turkish forces moved into Manbij, according to Reuters. The town was taken back from ISIS earlier this month by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is composed of both Arab and Kurdish fighters.

SDF-aligned militia said they were reinforcing Manbij but insisted none of the fighters were YPG militia, according to Reuters.

In his statement, Cook stressed that the United States was not involved in the clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces in Syria.

“The United States was not involved in these activities, they were not coordinated with U.S. forces, and we do not support them,” he said. “We regret all loss of life in these reported clashes and have expressed our condolences to Turkey for the apparent loss of a Turkish soldier.”

Cook said the United States is urging all sides to open up a line of communication. He also reiterated the United States’s call for the YPG to move to the east of the Euphrates River, which he said U.S. officials “understand" has "largely occurred.”

The clashes between Turkey and the Kurds in Syria only help ISIS, he added.

“Uncoordinated operations and maneuvers only provide room for ISIL to find sanctuary and continue planning attacks against Turkey, the SDF, the United States, and our partners around the world. Unity of focus on ISIL over the coming days and weeks is imperative,” Cook said, using the administration's preferred acronym for the terrorist group.

He also pledged that the United States would continue to support both Turkey and the SDF. 

“The United States will remain closely engaged with our NATO ally Turkey and with the SDF and other coalition-supported actors on the ground in Syria to facilitate de-confliction and unity of effort over the coming days,” he said. “We call on all armed actors on the ground to maintain focus on ISIL, which remains a lethal and common threat.”