WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon will prevent any Turkish invasion of northern Syria.
Just how is unclear.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is again threatening to cross Turkey’s border with Syria to attack, disperse and destroy Kurdish troops that are the bulk of the Syrian Democratic Fores. The SDF was the ground force that fought against ISIS, an effort that successfully destroyed the ISIS ground caliphate in eastern Syria.
“What we’re going to do is prevent unilateral incursions that would upset, again, these mutual interests that the United States, Turkey and the SDF share with regard to northern Syria,” Esper told reporters traveling with him Tuesday to Japan. “I’m hopeful we’ll get there.”
He said the U.S. will not jettison its Kurdish allies, a fear among Kurds based on past promises of support from Washington that dissipated.
U.S. and Turkish military officials have been meeting in Ankara to try and construct a means to avoid the invasion — the latest divide in what once was one of the strongest military relationships in the world.
The already fractured relationship ruptured further in July when the U.S. tossed Turkey from the F-35 fighter aircraft program after it began to take delivery of the Russian S-400 anti-missile system. The U.S. says that Russian system would be able to steal critical technology and tactics from the F-35.
Esper is on his first trip since being confirmed as defense secretary last month. His comments to reporters are made to a smaller group of Pentagon media traveling with him, know as the pool. TMN is part of the pool and has access to those comments.
The trip has taken Esper to Australia, New Zealand and Japan. He is also to visit South Korea and Mongolia.
In Japan, Esper said he will try to convince Tokyo to provide ships as part of an international escort coalition in the Persian Gulf.
“Any and every country that has an interest in freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce needs to really consider (being) involved in this type of monitoring of the strait,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I think it’s something that the Japanese should strongly consider. I’ll be discussing this with them.”
Only Israel and the United Kingdom said they wil send ships. Germany said no to the United States.
In addition, China said it would send its warships, but not as part of the U.S.-planned coalition.
Meeting today with Japanese officials, Esper said China’s military actions, “aggression and calculated strategy of predatory economics violates the international rules-based order that we are trying to uphold.”
He said China is trying “to coerce its neighbors into activities designed for Beijing’s benefit,” according to the pool report.