US Slams NATO Ally Turkey on Airstrikes Against Kurds

Lockheed Martin F-16B of the Turkish Air Force during Exercise Anatolian Eagle, Konya Air Base, Turkey. (Giovanni Colla/Stocktrek Images/Giovanni Colla/Stocktrek Images)
Lockheed Martin F-16B of the Turkish Air Force during Exercise Anatolian Eagle, Konya Air Base, Turkey. (Giovanni Colla/Stocktrek Images/Giovanni Colla/Stocktrek Images)

In a rare rebuke to a NATO ally, the U.S. military charged that Turkish airstrikes against a valued U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in northern Syria came with little warning and could have endangered American advisers.

"We were troubled by that," Air Force Col. John Dorrian said of Turkey's failure to give adequate warning of airstrikes Tuesday in the Hasaka area. The strikes reportedly killed at least 20 fighters of the YPG, or People's Protection Units, which have proven to be the most effective anti-ISIS force in northeastern Syria.

"We had forces within six miles of the strikes," said Dorrian, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. "It was an unsafe way to conduct operations."

Turkey views the YPG as an offshoot and ally of the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, which has been branded a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union.

However, Dorrian said in a video conference from Baghdad that the YPG forces continue to "make tremendous sacrifices" in the fight against ISIS and in preparation for the assault on Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The U.S. has backed the YPG with advice and training as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces and "we will continue that support."

The U.S. is especially concerned that Turkey gave little advance warning to the U.S. Combined Air Operations Center in Baghdad and described only a general area in which they would take place, Dorrian said.

"There was an inadequate amount of time to clear all of our forces away from what is a very significantly sized area, so we didn't have exact fidelity on where the strikes would occur and not an enormous amount of time to have our forces react," he said.

"The U.S. had less than an hour's notification time. That's not enough time" to alert U.S. troops on the ground, particularly when they have only a vague idea of where the strikes will occur, Dorrian said. He described the Turkish warning "as a notification, as opposed to coordination" with a trusted ally.

Turkish airstrikes Tuesday also hit areas in northwestern Iraq and killed at least five Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Dorrian said. The U.S. and Iraq condemned the strikes that Turkey said were also aimed at the PKK.

Despite the U.S. complaints, the Turkish airstrikes continued Wednesday amid cross-border artillery exchanges between Turkish forces and the YPG, Reuters reported.

Turkey also rejected U.S. charges that less than an hour's notice was given of the airstrikes. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said both the U.S. and Russia had ample warning.

"Two hours before this operation, we shared information with the U.S. and Russia that we would undertake an operation" in the region, and warned the U.S. to withdraw its soldiers in the region to 20-30 kilometers away," Çavuşoğlu told reporters on a trip to Uzbekistan.

"Turkey acts transparently on all issues. We have no secret agenda," he said. "We respect Syria and Iraq's territorial integrity," but Turkey had "a legitimate right with these interventions" because of the threats to Turkey posed by the YPG and the PKK.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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