Pentagon says United States not abandoning Kurds

Clay Curtis
October 11, 2019

Turkey also says one of its soldiers was "martyred".

In Washington, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Defense Secretary Mark Esper "made clear" in a phone call Thursday with his Turkish counterpart that the U.S. opposes the incursion.

Critics say the U.S. withdrawal effectively gave Turkey the green light to begin its cross-border assault, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says is to create a "safe zone" running for 480km along the Syrian side of the border. "We pushed back very hard at all levels for the Turks not to commence this operation", Esper said.

Turkey has long threatened to attack the Kurdish fighters whom Ankara considers terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.

Cavusoglu said it was not clear how many Islamic State militants were in the zone targeted by Turkey's incursion, estimating around 1,000 were held in prisons "and they say there are another thousand in camps", he said without elaborating.

Separately, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged Ankara to exercise restraint in its incursion, though he acknowledged what he said was Turkey's legitimate security concern about the Syrian Kurdish fighters.

At least five people, including a Syrian baby, were reportedly killed in Kurdish shelling of Turkish border towns.

In Washington, Trump - fending off accusations that he abandoned the Kurds, loyal allies of the United States - suggested that Washington could mediate in the conflict, while also raising the possibility of imposing sanctions on Turkey.

In a letter to the Security Council on Wednesday, Ankara said that the operation was being conducted within the framework of "the right of self-defense as outlined in Article 51 of the UN Charter, to counter the imminent terrorist threat, to ensure Turkey's border security, to neutralize terrorists".

Trump ordered the pullback after a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday, prompting rare criticism from senior figures in his own Republican Party who accuse him of deserting loyal USA allies - the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by Kurdish YPG militia.

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Kurdish counter-attacks overnight led to the retaking of two of the 11 villages they had lost since the start of the Turkish-led assault on Wednesday.

USA -allied Syrian Kurdish forces had been holding more than 10,000 Islamic State members captured during the war against the extremists in camps and detention centers in this part of Syria.

"I'm not sure if the Turkish army can rapidly get this under control", Putin said, speaking during a visit to Turkmenistan.

Turkey is ostensibly a military ally of most of the European countries Erdogan is threatening, as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) defence alliance.

Pro-Turkish Syrian fighters cross the border into Syria as they take part in an offensive against Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria launched by the Turkish military, on Friday.

On Thursday, Turkish troops encircled the border towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for an emergency meeting of the coalition of more than 30 countries created to fight ISIL.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's communications director said that U.S. President Donald Trump, in a Sunday phone call which appeared to pave the way for Turkey's offensive, agreed "to transfer the leadership of the counter-Islamic State campaign to Turkey".

The president defended his decision to withdraw troops - even saying at one point the Kurds "didn't help us in the Second World War".

The SDF said Turkish air strikes and shelling had killed nine civilians.

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