The US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, said on Tuesday that a Turkish military operation in northern Syria, as announced by the Turkish president, is unacceptable. The US will prevent such an attack, Esper said.
"It is clear that we think that any unilateral action by them (Turkey, ed.) Would be unacceptable," the US minister told journalists traveling with him to Japan that he would visit in the coming days. "We will prevent unilateral raids that, once again, damage the shared interests of the US, Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Northern Syria."
The Turkish government wants to launch an offensive to expel the Kurdish YPG from border towns in the Syrian provinces of Raqqa and Hasaka. For example, a 'safe zone' must be established in the border area. That operation has been delayed for months, mainly due to strong opposition from Washington.
That operation has been delayed for months, mainly due to strong opposition from Washington.
Last weekend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the offensive is coming. He did not specify when exactly that should happen.
It would be the third Turkish invasion of northern Syria in three years.
US and Turkey negotiate Turkish invasion
Esper stated that the US has no "ambition" to abandon the Kurds, but offered them no guarantee of protection if a Turkish invasion occurs. A Pentagon team is in Turkey to discuss the situation and the minister said he was hopeful that an agreement could be reached.
The SDF is a coalition of Syrian opposition groups, in which the Kurds are strongly represented. The most important Kurdish battle group in the coalition is the YPG militia. The SDF has taken over most of northeast Syria in the last four years, after the Islamic State was expelled from that region with American support.
Turkey sees Kurdish militias as terrorists
Turkey regards the YPG militia as a terrorist organization. Ankara wants to prevent the Kurds from establishing their own state on the Turkish southeast border. That could encourage separatist sympathies with the Kurdish minority in their own country. The Turkish government has been fighting a bloody conflict with the Kurdish PKK for decades.
Relations between Washington and Ankara have been tense for a long time because of a large number of ongoing issues. For example, the US recently threw Turkey out of the JSF program after the Turks bought S-400 rocket systems from Russia that the Americans saw as a threat.