Pentagon says coalition jets back Turkey in Syria without weapons
WASHINGTONJets with the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) backed a Turkish army operation near al-Bab in Syria last week but did not use weapons, the Pentagon said on Jan. 3.
“Last week, there was a request... when some Turkish forces came under fire for air support and there were flights conducted by the coalition at that time,” AFP quoted Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook as saying.
“My understanding of that was there was not a strike specifically, but there were aircraft involved in that effort, a visible show of force if you will, by coalition aircraft.”
Turkish forces have been engaged for several weeks in deadly fighting against ISIL to retake the city.
But despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s requests, coalition planes had previously refused to directly help the Turks.
The coalition criticizes Turkey for launching the offensive unilaterally without first reaching an agreement with its partners.
“We continue to talk with the government of Turkey about the appropriate level of support for the efforts there in al-Bab and that’s an ongoing conversations, even happening today,” Cook stressed.
The Americans supported the first part of the Turkish offensive named the Euphrates Shield Operation in Syria launched in August 2016. But they are concerned that the Turks, after the conquest of al-Bab, might attack the Kurdish-led Arab-Kurdish coalition of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The SDF is mostly comprised of Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD). While Turkey regards the YPG and PYD as terror organizations due to their links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the United States sees the YPG and SDF as their most effective ally in the fight against ISIL in Syria.
The SDF is currently leading the first part of the offensive against Raqqa, the self-proclaimed ISIL capital in Syria.
While the coalition did not strike at al-Bab to help the Turks, the Russians did not hold back, bombing ISIL targets in the city since last week jointly with Turkish forces.