WASHINGTON, DC - The Pentagon has expressed disappointment with Turkey's decision to launch a unilateral military incursion into northern Syria, but says the welfare of its soldiers must come first.
In a press briefing on Friday Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Turkish operation which has left civilians dead and forced tens of thousands to flee, was putting the Syrian Democratic Forces in harm's way, risking the security of ISIS prison camps, and will further destabilize the region.
"From the president on down, we have communicated with the Turks on this issue. I spoke with Turkish Defense Minister Akar yesterday to express our strong opposition to Turkey's actions, and reiterated the damage this is doing to our bilateral relationship," Esper told reporters.
"As we've previously reported, when Turkey notified us of an imminent military operation, we relocated a small contingent of less than 50 special operations soldiers out of the immediate zone of attack. This decision was made to ensure American troops were not caught up in the fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces."
"The safety of our men and women in uniform remains our top priority. As such, we are repositioning additional forces in the region to assist with force protection as necessary," the defense secretary said, notably not making any reference to the the casualties and damage being borne by the Kurdish population.
Even the protection of two ISIS members known as the Beatles, who were involved in the kidnapping and murder of U.S. and U.K. citizens in Syria, has been assured by the U.S. The pair have been taken to a safe and secure location in the region, but outside of Syria.
As far as the Kurds who have been fighting alongside U.S. forces in the battles against ISIS, Esper rejected statement by Kurdish soldiers overnight that they had been abandoned by the U.S. and 'betrayed.'
"To be clear, we are not abandoning our Kurdish partner forces and U.S. troops remain with them in other parts of Syria," Esper said at Friday's press briefing.
"The impulsive action of President Erdogan to invade northern Syria has put the United States in a tough situation, given our relationship with our NATO-allied Turkey, who has fought alongside the United States in the past; the Syrian Democratic Forces, who helped us destroy the physical caliphate of ISIS; and the safety of U.S. military personnel."
"Rather than get pulled into this conflict, we put the welfare of our soldiers first, while urging Turkey to forego its operation, and working hard with us to address their concerns through the development of a security zone along the border," the defense secretary said.
"We remain in close coordination with the Syrian Democratic Forces, who helped us destroy the physical caliphate of ISIS. But I will not place American service members in the middle of a longstanding conflict between the Turks and the Kurds. This is not why we are in Syria."