A top Turkish presidential aide warned Wednesday that U.S. troops are in danger of Turkish airstrikes hitting them in Syria if the Trump administration continues to rely on Kurdish forces to fight the Islamic State.
Ilnur Cevik’s comments follow Turkish airstrikes on American-backed Kurdish fighters inside Syria on April 25. The strikes drew condemnation from the U.S. who said Turkey gave approximately 20 minutes notice and struck an area only six miles away from U.S. special operators.
“It was an unsafe way to conduct operations,” Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. John Dorrian told reporters the day of the strikes.
The U.S. responded by moving armored vehicles to the Turkish-Syrian border in a move to deter further strikes. Cevik responded to the show of force, telling Turkish radio “we won’t be considering the fact that there are armored American vehicles … All of a sudden, by accident, a few rockets can hit them.”
Cevik’s comments are particularly extraordinary given Turkey’s NATO membership and the key role the country plays in the American anti-ISIS mission. Any potential conflict between the two countries is fraught with macro-level consequences.
Tensions between the U.S. and Turkey are only likely to get worse as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) inch closer to ISIS’s capital of Raqqa. The closer SDF move to the city, the more American troops may be in danger from a Turkish strike. The U.S. has nearly 400 Marines inside Syria providing artillery support to the defense forces, and they are approximately 20 miles outside the city.
Even if Turkey does not hit the SDF again, it could hinder U.S. efforts by cutting off access to the jointly controlled airbase at Incirlik. Denying access or use of the base would force American troops to fly longer missions to hit ISIS in Syria and could be an obstacle to ramping up the air campaign against the terrorist group.
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