U.S. President Donald Trump urged Turkey on Wednesday to curtail its military operation in Syria and warned it not to bring U.S. and Turkish forces into conflict, but a Turkish source said a White House readout did not accurately reflect the conversation.
Turkey’s air and ground operation in Syria’s Afrin region, now in its fifth day, targets U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG fighters, which Ankara sees as allies of Kurdish insurgents who have fought in southeastern Turkey for decades.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he would extend the operation to Manbij, a separate Kurdish-held enclave some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin, possibly putting U.S. forces there at risk and threatening U.S. plans to stabilize a swath of Syria.
“He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties,” a White House statement said. “He urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.”
The United States has around 2,000 troops in Syria.
However, a Turkish source said the White House statement did not accurately reflect the content of their phone call.
“President Trump did not share any ‘concerns about escalating violence’ with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin,” the source said, referring to one comment in the White House summary of their conversation.
The United States and Turkey, while themselves allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have diverging interests in Syria, with Washington focused on defeating the Islamic State militant group and Ankara keen to prevent Syria’s Kurds from gaining autonomy and fueling Kurdish insurgents on its soil.
The U.S.-Turkish alliance has been in a rocky state as Erdogan has been livid about US support for the Kurdish group it considers a terror group. His courting of Russia and Iran have further put the long relationship to a test as a result of his growing impatience with Washington.
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