Pentagon calls on Turkey to halt Syria offensive

The Pentagon has called on Turkey to halt its military offensive into Syria, warning of “serious consequences” if it does not comply.

In a Thursday phone call with Turkish Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar, Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOfficials say Trump to announce withdrawal of more than 4,000 troops from Afghanistan soon Trump greeted with cheers at 120th Army-Navy game Overnight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | 'We probably weren't that good at' nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week MORE “made it clear that the United States opposes Turkey's uncoordinated actions” in northeast Syria, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement Friday.

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Esper told Akar that the Turkish strikes “place at risk the progress” in combating ISIS, and that its action “risks serious consequences for Turkey,” Hoffman said.

“The Secretary also reiterated his strong concern that, despite U.S. force protection measures, Turkey's actions could harm U.S. personnel in Syria,” Hoffman added, saying Esper “strongly encouraged” Turkey to discontinue actions “to increase the possibility that the United States, Turkey and our partners could find a common way to deescalate the situation before it becomes irreparable.”

President Trump announced earlier this week after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that Turkey would proceed with a long-planned operation in northern Syria and that U.S. forces would be withdrawn from the area.

The move by Trump was widely viewed as giving the go-ahead for the military incursion, as U.S. forces had been acting as a buffer between Turkish and Kurdish forces. The Kurdish allies have been used by Washington as a highly effective local force fighting ISIS in Syria.

Trump has staunchly defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the area, even as critics — including many GOP lawmakers — argue he is abandoning a U.S. ally and allowing them to be attacked by Turkish forces.

Before Turkey's military incursion, the Defense Department said that it did not endorse the operation, despite the withdrawal of U.S. forces. 

Turkey on Friday increased its air and artillery strikes on Kurdish forces in the area, with warplane and artillery strikes hitting near the Syrian border town of Ras al Ain, Reuters reported.

At least 32 Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and 34 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, as well as 10 civilians, have been killed since the incursion began, according to Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.