U.S. Effectively Blocks Turkey from Operating in Syrian Airspace

The Associated Press
AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

The Pentagon stated on Monday that Turkey has been removed from the “air tasking order” employed by members of the anti-Islamic State coalition operating in Syria.

This means Turkish planes will have considerable difficulty entering Syrian airspace to support the invasion threatened by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and will not benefit from surveillance data collected by the coalition.

“If you’re not on the air tasking order, it’s really hard to coordinate flights in that area,” explained Pentagon spokeswoman Carla Gleason.

The Defense Department took pains on Monday to make it clear the United States “does not endorse a Turkish operation in northern Syria” and “will not support or be involved in any such operation,” as another Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, put it.

“In conversations between the department and the Turkish military we have consistently stressed that coordination and cooperation were the best path toward security in the area,” Hoffman said.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said they have stressed to their counterparts in Ankara that “unilateral action creates risks for Turkey.”

The Turkish Defense Ministry nevertheless stated on Tuesday that “all preparations for the operation have been completed.”

“The establishment of a Safe Zone/Peace Corridor is essential for Syrians to have a safe life by contributing to the stability and peace of our region. Turkish Security Forces will never tolerate the creation of a terror corridor at our borders,” the Defense Ministry said.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said the operation will eliminate “a serious threat to the territorial integrity and unity of Syria” and “prevent the recurrence of the terrorist Daesh and similar problems in the future.”

Daesh is another name for the Islamic State, which Turkey portrays as one of its two main nemeses in the Syrian border region. The other is the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG, which Turkey regards as an extension of the PKK, a Kurdish separatist party in Turkey designated a terrorist organization by the United States, European countries, and NATO, of which Turkey is a member. All of those other nations and organizations disagree with Turkey’s classification of the YPG as terrorists, having worked with the Syrian Kurds for years to defeat ISIS.

Turkish officials told Reuters on Tuesday they have conducted strikes along the border between Syria and Iraq to prevent Kurdish reinforcements from moving through Iraq.

“In this way, the group’s transit to Syria and support lines, including ammunition, are shut off,” a Turkish source said, without providing details of the strikes or how they were carried out. Reuters expressed skepticism about Turkey’s claims, as its reports saw no signs of activity from major Turkish artillery positions near the border.

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