U.S. Says Turkey's Attack in Syria Puts Americans at Risk

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. expressed “great concern” over Turkey’s shelling of U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in an area of northern Syria where American forces are embedded, an offensive that has added a new strain to the NATO allies’ already rocky ties.

“Unilateral military strikes into northwest Syria by any party, particularly as American personnel may be present or in the vicinity, are of great concern to us,” Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told a news conference in Washington on Wednesday. The U.S. has been in touch with Turkey and a Kurdish-dominated Syrian militia to emphasize the need “to de-escalate the situation,” he said.

The offensive has already had repercussions for the campaign against Islamic State in Syria. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces “temporarily” suspended offensive actions against Islamic State in response to cross-border attacks by Turkey, Colonel Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the jihadist group, said on Twitter on Thursday.

Goodwill Sign

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to crush separatist Kurdish militants operating in Syria along his country’s border, seeing them as an extension of the separatist Kurdish PKK group classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and European Union. Erdogan has dismissed the Pentagon’s concern that the military drive could compromise the battle against Islamic State in eastern Syria, where the Kurdish force is a key combatant.

In a sign that neither side wants the situation to escalate, Turkish and U.S. forces started joint patrols in rural areas of the northwestern Syrian town of Manbij, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said. Turkey, however, still wants Kurdish forces in Manbij to withdraw from the town.

Unintended Consequences

Turkey’s relations with the U.S. have been badly strained over Washington’s support for the Kurdish fighters, and while a direct confrontation between their forces are unlikely, Turkey’s vow to clear the Kurdish force from areas where U.S. troops are stationed requires extreme care to avoid unintended American casualties.

“Coordination and consultation between the United States and Turkey on issues of security concern is a better approach,” Palladino said.

Following an exchange of cross-border fire, Turkish police seized a vehicle carrying more than 247 kilograms (545 pounds) of explosives in the southeastern province of Mardin, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.