The United States ramped up efforts on Friday to persuade Turkey to halt an escalating offensive in northern Syria against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, saying Ankara was causing “great harm” to ties and could face potentially devastating sanctions.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull back troops from Syria’s border with Turkey has been widely criticized in Washington as a tacit “green light” for a Turkish incursion that experts say could cause a humanitarian catastrophe.
But the Pentagon denied accusations it had abandoned its Syrian Kurdish allies, its strongest partner in the battle against Islamic State, to the Turkish military onslaught.
“Nobody green-lighted this operation by Turkey, just the opposite. We pushed back very hard at all levels for the Turks not to commence this operation,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told a news briefing, accusing Ankara of damaging ties.
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Esper and Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they had spoken with their Turkish counterparts repeatedly in recent days, asking them to stop.
“I’m not seeing any indication or warnings of any planned stoppage of their military activity,” said Milley, the top U.S. military officer.
After Milley spoke, President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey will not stop its operation against the Kurdish militia “no matter what anyone says.”
Since it began on Tuesday, the Turkish incursion has opened a new front in the eight-year Syrian civil war and drawn international criticism. A war monitor gave a death toll of more than 100 so far and the United Nations said 100,000 people had fled their homes.
Trump himself has come under withering criticism, including from stalwart Republican backers such as U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, for withdrawing the U.S. forces whose presence might have prompted Erdogan to hold off on sending in troops.