United States sees no threat of Turkish attack on Syrian Kurds

The United States does not see any threat of attack coming from Turkish troops or other regional powers against U.S.-partnered forces in Syria, including Syrian Kurdish militia, U.S. Department of Defense spokesperson Eric Pohan said.

U.S. backing for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Defence Forces in their fight against Islamic State (ISIS) has been a major source of tension between the United States and Turkey since 2014.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly talked about attacking Kurdish-controlled territories in northern Syria and in particular has threatened to attack the northwestern Syrian enclave of Afrin.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu this week echoed the same message and alluded to the possibility of attacking Afrin, which borders Turkish-held territory in Syria.

The U.S.-led coalition against ISIS has deployed forces in several locations in northern Syria, including at an airbase near the border town of Kobani, and supported the SDF with air strikes, artillery, and special forces on the ground. Many of the air strikes supporting the SDF were carried out by coalition planes taking off from the Incirlik air base, in southern Turkey, despite Turkish objections.

The London-based, Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported that U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis had assured the Kurdish and Arab SDF that the United States would defend them against any attack by the Syrian government.

Asked about Erdoğan’s comments, Pentagon spokesman Pohan told Ahval he would not speculate on any attack, ‘’since none of these scenarios are significant threats at the moment. We are more than capable of defending ourselves and our partner forces should the need arise, and continue to focus on assisting our local partner forces to defeat ISIS and establish the security and stability in Syria necessary to prevent a resurgence of terrorist elements.’’

Pohan also denied reports that the United States was moving towards recognising the Kurdish-controlled Syrian territories, which have declared themselves autonomous from the rest of Syria.

‘’The future of Syria is to be decided by Syrians,” he said.

A U.S. State Department official said the United States ‘’would not recognise any unilaterally declared self-rule or semi-autonomous zone and we have made that position known to all parties.’’