U.S. removes Turkey from air tasking order in Syria

The Combined Air Operations Centre (COAC) on Monday has pulled Turkey out of the coalition air tasking order, cutting off access to surveillance and effectively shutting Turkey out of north-eastern Syrian air space, reported Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu.

The removal will hinder Turkey’s ability to use aerial support for the country’s planned offensive into the Kurdish-held area in north-eastern Syria along its border.

The air space is not shut down to Turkey, however, “it’s really hard to coordinate flights in that area,” Pentagon Spokeswoman Carla Gleason was quoted by Anadolu Agency as saying, “if you’re not on the air tasking order.”

U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, in a since deleted tweet, said the Department of Defence does not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria, warning of “the possible destabilizing consequences of potential actions to Turkey, the region and beyond.”

A statement by the department said, “The U.S. Armed Forces will not support, or be involved in any such operation.”

In a move that has been met with bipartisan protest in the Congress, U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Sunday that U.S. troops were to withdraw from the border region in north-eastern Syria and Turkey would soon start the long-planned operation.

Turkey and the U.S. had agreed in August to establish a safe zone in part of the area controlled by the majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), with the YPG pulling heavy weapons from the area and removing fortifications. However, Ankara, not satisfied with the implementation of this plan, had announced plans for a unilateral operation.

The YPG and its umbrella organisation Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who have been backed by the U.S. since 2014, are considered by Turkey to be a threat to national security as the country views the majority-Kurdish groups to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkey has conducted several operations against the Kurdish-held regions since 2016 and currently controls parts of Syrian territory, including the formerly Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin, where a UN report from early 2019 said there are “reasonable grounds to believe that armed group members committed the war crimes.”