Turkey may be spinning out of NATO orbit, U.S. defence chief says

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the United States was worried about Turkey's direction regarding the county's actions in Syria.

At the time of the incursion into northern Syria, we thought it was a mistake, we thought it would lead to greater instability in the region. It really once again our concerns about Turkey's direction that they may be spinning out of the NATO orbit," Esper on Saturday said during an interview at Reagan National Defense Forum.

But, Esper also emphasised that Turkey has been a NATO ally for a long time, who fought in several wars alongside the United States.

Turkey on Oct. 9 launched a military incursion in northern Syria targetting U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces and its affiliates that Ankara sees as terrorists due to their link to outlawed Kurdish militias in Turkey.

Turkey and the United States have been at loggerheads over several issues, including U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish forces in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and Ankara's purchase of Russian S-400 air missile systems despite Washington's objections.

The U.S. policy in Syria is to guarantee enduring defeat of the ISIS and the United States continues to cooperate with Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to achieve this goal, Esper said.

The U.S. defence chief said the mutual interest between the United States and the Kurdish forces was the physical defeat of the caliphate of the ISIS.

"But, no point in the time, do we say we are here to help you establish an autonomous Kurdish state. No time do we say we are going to defend you against Turkey, a NATO ally for 70 years," Esper said.

Ankara and Moscow in Sept. 2017 signed a loan agreement for the supply of Russian S-400 air defence systems to Turkey. The United States and its NATO allies see the Russian system as incompatible with NATO systems and posing a security threat to the F-35 stealth fighter. 

Turkey began to take delivery of S-400 components in late July, prompting Washington to remove Turkey from the F-35 fighter jets programme.