WASHINGTON – The Pentagon on Friday urged Turkey to halt its military incursion into Syria, saying it threatens progress in combating the Islamic State group and risks harm to U.S. troops.
It was the Pentagon's most explicit criticism of the Turkish operation, which began Wednesday as a campaign against a Syrian Kurd-led militia that has partnered with U.S. forces over the past five years to fight the Islamic State.
President Donald Trump has called the invasion a "bad idea" and held out the possibility of the U.S. mediating a settlement. The Pentagon had said before the operation began that the U.S. military would not support it, but it had not openly criticized the invasion. The U.S. pulled about 30 special operations troops out of observation posts along the invasion route on the Syrian border.
In a written statement, the chief Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said that in a phone call Thursday with his Turkish counterpart, Defense Secretary Mark Esper "made it clear" that the U.S. opposes the incursion.
Hoffman said Esper told Defense Minister Hulusi Akar that his government's military actions "place at risk" the progress made to defeat the extremists, and Esper urged Turkey to stop its incursion.
"While the secretary reaffirmed we value our strategic bilateral relationship, this incursion 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."
The U.S. has about 1,000 troops in Syria.
"As part of the call, Secretary Esper strongly encouraged Turkey to discontinue actions in northeastern Syria in order 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," Hoffman said.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke by phone on Wednesday with his Turkish counterpart to discuss the security situation in Syria. Details were not released.