Military Capabilities

US warns Turkey against offensive into northeast Syria

14 December 2018

One of several US military positions around Manbij is seen on 8 May. The establishment of several more observation posts on the Turkish border will stretch the 2,000 personnel that the US military says it has in Syria. Source: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • The US DoD is taking Turkish threats to invade northeast Syria seriously
  • It has confirmed that it has now established an unspecified number of observation posts on the Syrian-Turkish border to deter incursions

The US Department of Defense (DoD) indicated on 12 December that it is seriously concerned about a Turkish military operation into northeast Syria, publicly warning Ankara that this would be "unacceptable".

Noting that the US military has established observation posts on the Turkish-Syrian border, DoD spokesman Commander Sean Robertson said, "Unilateral military action into northeast Syria by any party, particularly as US personnel may be present or in the vicinity, is of grave concern. We would find any such actions unacceptable.

"Co-ordination and consultation between the US and Turkey is the only approach to address issues of security concern in this area," he added.

Cmdr Robertson said the statement was a response to comments made by Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said earlier on 12 December, "We will launch an operation east of the Euphrates within a matter of days to save it from a separatist terrorist organisation."

Most of northeast Syria is controlled by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which have been the US's primary partner against the Islamic State extremists in Syria. However, Turkey is concerned about the growing power of a Kurdish group that it considers to be synonymous with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Erdoğan reiterated his threat on 14 December, saying, "We will no longer tolerate a single day of delay … We are determined to bring peace and security to the areas east of the Euphrates."

The Turkish military carried out airstrikes against Kurdish forces in northern Iraq rather than Syria the night before. The Ministry of Defence said more than 20 manned and unmanned aircraft attacked more than 30 targets in the Sinjar and Mount Karajak areas.

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