US officials warn Turkey not to lose ISIS focus in Syria

Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White discusses efforts to persuade Turkey to limit its offensive in Afrin

WASHINGTON — New fighting was touched off Monday in Syria after Kurdish fighters confronted Turkish troops. The fighting — not far from Afrin, an area held by Kurdish forces — is approximately 70 miles from where U.S. troops are training moderate Syrian forces.

U.S. national security and military officials said Turkey is in a difficult position but must remain focused on defeating ISIS.

“We’ve told turkey we want this to be limited,” Dana White, Pentagon chief spokeswoman told WTOP.

“Turkey is a NATO ally, and Turkey is the only NATO ally with an active insurgency within its borders, so its security concerns are legitimate, and we’re talking to them about it. We’re fully engaged, and we are working with them to combat some of the terrorist threats that they face.”

But in the process, there is concern that as Turkey branches out in its quest to neutralize terror threats, its actions — namely airstrikes — might put U.S. troops at risk.

The Pentagon is keenly aware of it, White said, and ready to deal with it.

“What the U.S. military does is innately dangerous. We’re working by, with and through our partners, and we always reserve the right of self-defense. But we are working with Turkey to ensure that they de-escalate this offensive, that they limit it, and again, that all parties focus on defeating ISIS.”

The Department of Defense approach is a part of broader Trump administration approach to quell the dangerous Turkish offensive.

A National Security Council spokesman told WTOP that the U.S. has to think about the other part of the equation.

“We are already working closely with Turkey to address the threat that the Kurdish Workers’ Party [PKK] poses to Turkish security, and we will not accept PKK attacks against Turkey.”

But the spokesman echoed White’s comments: “We have discussed with Turkey the need to ensure its operations are limited in scope, to ensure humanitarian aid continues and to avoid civilian casualties.”

The concern is “over the potential for an unintended incident in Manbij, Syria, where coalition forces continue stabilization efforts to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS,” the spokesman said. “Heated rhetoric and the variety of armed local groups create risk for miscalculation.”

The main concern for both military and political officials is preventing the Syrian military and government from taking advantage of the chaos in Afrin.

“The Syrian regime did not have a presence in Afrin, and we want to ensure that no party allows Assad’s brutal regime back into this area while we work to resolve the conflict through the Geneva process,” said the NSC spokesman.

J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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