US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III. (Photo credit: Reuters)
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on 30 November expressed his “strong opposition” to Turkiye’s plan to launch a new ground invasion into northern Syria during a phone call with his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar.
An official readout of the call states, “Secretary Austin called for de-escalation, and shared the Department’s strong opposition to a new Turkish military operation in Syria.” The US official also “expressed concerns” about Ankara’s airstrikes, which “threatened the safety of US personnel.”
The call between the defense officials came just hours after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu blasted the US for supporting Kurdish militias in northern Syria, and called for this cooperation to end.
“The support of some allies, especially the US, to terrorist organizations in Syria is obvious. We say that such support should be terminated,” Cavusoglu said at a press conference during a NATO meeting in Bucharest.
On the same day, Daily Sabah published images and footage of Turkish military trucks and tanks traveling to “point zero” on the Syrian border, as Ankara is reportedly ready to launch the next stage of operation ‘Claw Sword.’
The operation was launched on 20 November, days after a deadly bomb attack in the heart of Istanbul, which Turkiye says was perpetrated by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Washington’s support for the PKK and the People Protection Units (YPG) – which make up the bulk of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – has long been a thorn in the side of NATO member Turkiye.
Moreover, Washington’s tepid response to the attacks against their Kurdish partners has drawn criticism from SDF leaders, who say they are “disappointed” by the response and have urged Washington to uphold its “moral duty” to protect its allies.
Despite all this, the war in Ukraine has forced Washington to recalibrate its priorities across West Asia.
“The Biden administration sees Turkiye as a very important ally vis-à-vis the conflict in Ukraine,” Giorgio Cafiero of Gulf State Analytics told Responsible Statecraft. He went on to add that, due to Ankara’s key role in providing weapons to Kiev and moderating talks between the warring parties, “the White House is not interested in aggravating Turkiye right now.”