WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Thursday that it has no control over roughly 1,700 Syrian Kurdish troops moving north to a possible confrontation with Turkish forces, despite Turkey’s demand that the U.S. stop them from coming.
“We are in a partnership with (the Syrian Kurdish forces) that is limited to defeating ISIS,” Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway said Thursday. “They are not a force we command or control.”
The departure of the troops, part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has caused the U.S.-led coalition to declare an “operational pause” in the ground efforts against ISIS. That halt in offensive action is in its second week.
The demand by Turkey for the U.S. to lasso the SDF troops came from a spokesperson of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said Turkey wants the United States to “step in and prevent” the redeployment, the Associated Press reported.
Turkey sent troops into northern Syria on Jan. 20 in an effort to dismantle and destroy alleged terrorists who are part of the YPG. The U.S. does not consider the YPG a terrorist group and has repeatedly called the incursion “a distraction” in the anti-ISIS efforts.
The U.S. provides combat advisers, air strike support, some logistical supplies and some training to the SDF, Rankine-Galloway said.
Although some SDF forces peeled away from the anti-ISIS effort immediately after the Turkish invasion, the 1,700 force shift changed the dynamics of the U.S.-coalition ground efforts, Pentagon officials said.
Meanwhile, pro-Syrian government forces have been building up in Deir al-Zour, near where U.S. troops are present and the SDF troops departed. That is is the same area where Russian-supported Syrian troops attacked U.S-coalition forces on February 7 and 8, when they were repulsed by coalition forces.
“U.S. forces in Syria have one mission, to defeat ISIS. While we do not seek confrontation with pro-regime forces, as we have demonstrated repeatedly, coalition forces will not hesitate to protect themselves when they are threatened,” Rankine-Galloway said.
“Coalition forces maintain good situational awareness of military developments throughout Syria and take appropriate force protection measures to ensure our forces are safe and can carry out their combat missions to rid Syria of ISIS,” he said.
Rankine-Galloway said it is important to note that on Feb. 7 and 8, coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the “unprovoked attack.
“Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity,” he said. “We continue to stress the value of the de-confliction line in mitigating the risk of harm to our respective forces in Syria.”
Russia, Turkey and Iran plan to hold a summit next month to discuss the situation in Syria, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday, according to Reuters. Cavusoglu also plans to meet with U.S. officials this month and is expected to tell Washington that it must take concrete steps to retrieve weapons it has supplied to the YPG, Reuters reported.
U.S. Central Command reported that U.S. and coalition forces carried out 23 airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq between Feb. 23 and March 1.