U.S. military officials are slamming Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish targets in northern Syria, saying Turkey’s actions on Tuesday jeopardized both the fight against the Islamic State terror group and the well-being of U.S. forces on the ground.
U.S. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, on Wednesday called Turkey’s efforts to inform and coordinate with the coalition “inadequate,” telling Pentagon reporters via video conference it was “not coordination you would expect from a partner and ally.”
"There was less than an hour of notification time before the strikes were conducted. That's not enough time," Dorrian said from Baghdad.
“We didn’t have exact fidelity on where the strikes would occur and not an enormous amount of time to have our forces react,” he said, adding U.S. forces in Syria were less than 10 kilometers (six miles) from the target zone.
Dorrian also criticized Turkey for the impact the strikes had on efforts to defeat and destroy Islamic State in Syria, an effort which has relied heavily on Kurdish forces fighting under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF.
“They killed a significant number of Peshmerga fighters,” he said. “These are fighters that have been very important in our fight against ISIS.”
The U.S. military spokesman refused to say how many Peshmerga fighters died in the strikes, but monitors from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 28 people were killed and about another 20 others were injured.
It was the second day in a row that a U.S. official has criticized Turkey’s actions.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Turkish airstrikes “were not approved by the coalition and led to the unfortunate loss of life of our partner forces."
Despite the criticism, the Turkish military launched a new round of airstrikes Wednesday, targeting what it described as Kurdish militants with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.
Turkey, the United States and the European Union have designated the PKK as a terrorist organization.
A spokesman for Turkey’s foreign ministry also defended the airstrikes, saying the U.S., the coalition and Russia were all “duly informed though both military and diplomatic channels.”
“Turkey will continue to support the coalition’s efforts to eliminate the Daesh terrorist organization,” spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “It will also continue its fight against terrorism of all kinds in line with its inherent right of self-defense."
At the site of Tuesday’s airstrikes, in the Syrian city of al-Hasakah, Kurdish fighters and local residents protested the Turkish raids.
Marwan Qamishlo, a member of YPG, told VOA that the strikes hit a local radio station, a media center, several communication towers and some military posts, killing an undetermined number of fighters on Qarachogh Mountain.
“It was 2 a.m. when Turkish planes started shelling our media headquarters,” Qamishlo said. “I don’t know how many planes were there, but they were all over the sky. …Tens of bombs were dropped on us for about an hour and a half.”
Kurdish fighters said the location was initially used to broadcast TV and radio programs to Syrian Kurdish cities and some Yazidi areas on the Iraqi border. VOA footage taken hours after the airstrikes shows the complex in rubble.
Helicopters containing a contingent of U.S. military arrived at the site later on Tuesday to assess the damage. U.S. commanders accompanied the YPG forces on a tour of the damage but refused to speak to the media.
A YPG commander who requested anonymity told VOA that YPG leaders have come under a lot of pressure from Turkish airstrikes and told the Americans that they may not be able continue to fight IS in Raqqa if the U.S. is not going protect them and their families from future attacks.
It remains unclear what, if any, impact the airstrikes will have on long-range U.S. efforts to coordinate an attack on the Islamic State stronghold at Raqqa with forces that include Kurdish fighters from several separate Kurdish factions.
One anti-jihadist faction, the Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units (YPG), makes up the backbone of a coalition backed by both the United States and Russia.
That coalition, a loosely knit alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, is closing in on the Islamic State de facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria, and analysts say a major anti-jihadist assault on the city is likely later this year.
Kino Gabriel is a spokesman of the Syriac Military Council, a Christian militia that fights IS in Syria and falls under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
"The Erdogan-led government in Turkey hates to see the Syriac, Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen (living) in harmony in a democratic community," Gabriel said in a statement. "They claimed that they attacked the PKK in Syria, which is totally a false statement; what they attacked was our brothers in the YPG and our common project with them that believe(s) in freedom, democracy and pluralism.”
Dorian Jones, Zana Omar, Ahed Al Hendi and Rikar Hussein contributed to this report.