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US says Turkey’s military operations in Syria weaken fight against ISIL, endanger civilians

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The United States has criticized ongoing Turkish airstrikes in northeast Syria against Kurdish militant groups for undermining the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist group, endangering civilians and destabilizing the region.

Turkey has been bombing sites in northeast Syria since Oct. 5, hitting civilian and military targets and infrastructure and causing casualties, according to Kurdish authorities.

“The situation in and in relation to Syria, and in particular the actions by the Government of Turkey to conduct a military offensive into northeast Syria, undermines the campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, endangers civilians, and further threatens to undermine the peace, security, and stability in the region, and continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” said a statement issued by the White House on Thursday.

The US administration, therefore, decided to extend an executive order for another year, beyond Oct. 14, 2023, which had been issued during the term of former US president Donald Trump, titled “National Emergency With Respect to the Situation in and in Relation to Syria.”

Turkey’s airstrikes in northeast Syria are targeting Kurdish militant groups such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), considered by Turkey an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization by much of the international community.

The SDF is the de facto army of the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria. It provided crucial assistance to a US-led coalition against ISIL.

Turkey launched a new wave of airstrikes in northeast Syria in retaliation for a terrorist attack in Ankara on Oct. 1 that injured two police officers. Turkey claims the two attackers came from Syria and were trained there.

The PKK claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place outside the interior ministry.

The semi-autonomous Kurdish administration in Syria has denied Turkey’s claim that the attackers in Ankara came from Syria and said at least 44 people, including security personnel and civilians, have been killed in the ongoing Turkish airstrikes.

US F-16 warplanes on Oct. 5 shot down a drone belonging to NATO ally Turkey that was deemed a potential threat to American forces in Syria.

Although the downing of the Turkish drone initially attracted a mild response from Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his far-right ally and the leader of a nationalist opposition party in separate statements this week condemned the incident, with Erdoğan vowing retaliation when the time is right.

Henri Barkey, the Cohen Professor of International Relations at Lehigh University who previously worked at the US State Department, described the White House statement on his X social media account as the “toughest statement directed at Turkey in a long time,” and “may also explain why the drone was shot down.”

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