Turkey should be held accountable for alleged war crimes in Syria - U.S. Defence Secretary

U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday said Turkey should be held accountable for alleged war crimes committed by Turkish-backed rebel forces against the Kurds in Syria.

Esper said that he assumes reports that the Turkish-backed rebels spearheading the country’s offensive in northeast Syria targeting Kurdish forces are committing war crimes is true and should be followed up on.

The Turkish military and allied Syrian rebels on Oct. 9 launched a launched a cross-border operation against Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces in Syria, following the withdrawal of  U.S. troops who had been allied to the Kurds.

"I've seen the reports as well, we're trying to monitor them. They are horrible and if accurate and I assume that they are accurate, they would be war crimes," Esper told CNN.

"I think all of those need to be followed up on. I think those responsible should be held accountable, in many cases it would be the government of Turkey -- (it) should be held accountable for this because we cannot allow those things to happen," the U.S. defence minister said. 

Turkey sees the YPG as a threat due to its links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has been at war in Turkey for over 30 years. 

The YPG dominates the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which have played a key role in the U.S.-led war on the Islamic State (ISIS) in the region. SDF fighters drove IS out of a quarter of Syria, capturing its last pocket of territory in the country in March 2019.

Some of the war crimes committed by the group include, including summary killings and unlawful attacks that have killed and injured civilians, Amnesty International reported earlier this month.

The organisation has said there was “damning evidence of indiscriminate attacks in residential areas, including attacks on a home, a bakery and a school, carried out by Turkey and allied Syrian armed groups,’’ in addition to “a summary killing in cold blood of a prominent Syrian-Kurdish female politician, Hevrin Khalaf.’’