The White House said Tuesday that Turkey has the “right to defend themselves” from Kurdish militant groups in northern Syria and Iraq following massive Turkish airstrikes in the region.
“Turkey does continue to suffer a legitimate terrorist threat, particularly to their south. They certainly have every right to defend themselves and their citizens,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
Turkey launched the strikes in response to a bombing in Istanbul that killed six people, which it blamed on the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliates, including the US-backed SDF. The operations killed members of the SDF, and they reportedly responded by firing rockets into a Turkish district near the Syrian border.
Ankara is continuing to expand its cross-border assault:
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Wednesday that Turkey’s military had hit nearly 500 Kurdish targets across Iraq and Syria as part of a campaign of air strikes.
“So far 471 targets have been struck and 254 terrorists were neutralized in the operation,” Akar was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency.
Kirby’s only warning was that the Turkish assault could impact US and SDF operations against ISIS. He said the Turkish operation “might force a reaction by some of our SDF partners that would limit and constrain their ability to fight against ISIS…and we want to be able to keep the pressure on ISIS.”
The statement from Kirby marks a shift in the US approach to Turkey’s operations against Kurds in Syria. The US typically condemns them but is not doing so now, likely because it wants Turkey to approve Sweden and Finland’s NATO bids.
Sweden changes constitution to beef up anti-terror law amid Turkey’s extradition requests https://t.co/6m3PDk2PFd
— Stockholm Center for Freedom (@StockholmCF) November 18, 2022
The State Department issued a short statement on the fighting between the two US allies on Monday that called for de-escalation. “We urge de-escalation in Syria to protect civilian life and support the common goal of defeating ISIS. We continue to oppose any uncoordinated military action in Iraq that violates Iraq’s sovereignty,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.