Smoke plumes rise after reported Turkish drone strikes near al-Qahtaniyah in Syria's northeastern Hasakah province, close to the border with Turkey, on Nov. 23. Photo: Gihad Darwish/AFP via Getty Images
CIA director Bill Burns gave his Turkish counterpart a strongly worded message opposing the recent Turkish artillery strikes and airstrikes against the Kurds in northern Syria, warning that they put U.S. forces in danger, according to two U.S. sources with direct knowledge of the issue.
The big picture: Several of the airstrikes, which U.S. officials said endangered American forces in northern Syria, were conducted by the Turkish intelligence service using drones, according to the U.S. sources.
Driving the news: The Turkish operation was launched after the terror attack in Istanbul on Nov. 13. The Turkish government claims Kurdish militias based in northern Syria were behind the attack.
- No group has claimed responsibility, and the mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, which is backed by the U.S., and Kurdistan Workers Party denied involvement.
- The U.S. is concerned the Turkish operation will escalate into a ground invasion and could endanger U.S. troops and their Kurdish allies who have been working together to fight ISIS in Syria.
- The U.S., which has 900 soldiers in northern Syria, with most of them stationed at bases that belong to the SDF, has been pressing Turkey at a high level to stop the operation and avoid an invasion.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke to his Turkish counterpart last week and the chairman of the joint chiefs Gen. Mark Milley spoke to his counterpart a few days before.
- SDF commander Mazloum Kobane Abdi told Axios' David Lawler the U.S. has a "moral duty" to do more to prevent Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from ordering a ground offensive into Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria.
Behind the scenes: The main reason for the increase in U.S. pressure on Turkey to stop its attacks in northern Syria is that one of the airstrikes conducted by Turkey last week hit a target that was less than a quarter of a mile from U.S. troops in the area, a U.S. source said.
- That prompted a call between Burns and his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan.
- The two U.S. sources briefed on the call said Burns told Fidan the strike put U.S. troops in danger and urged him against a ground invasion.
What they're saying: The White House and the CIA declined to comment.
- State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing with reporters on Tuesday that the U.S. made clear to Turkey publicly and privately that it strongly opposes military action, including a potential land incursion in northern Syria.
- “We remain concerned by escalating action in northern Syria, including recent airstrikes, some of which directly threaten the safety of U.S. personnel who are working to defeat ISIS," Price said.
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