1. SOUNDBITE (English) Mark Esper, Secretary of Defense:
"We oppose and are greatly disappointed by Turkey's decision to launch a unilateral military incursion into northern Syria. This operation puts our SDF partners in harm's way. It risks 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."
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2. SOUNDBITE (English) Mark Esper, Secretary of Defense:
"As we 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."
++SEPARATED BY WHITE FLASH++
3. SOUNDBITE (English) Mark Esper, Secretary of Defense:
"To be clear we are not abandoning our Kurdish partner forces and U.S. troops remain with them in other parts of Syria. 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 ally 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 forgo its operation and working hard with us to address their concerns through the development of a security zone along the border."
An "impulsive" decision by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to invade northern Syria will further destabilize a region already caught up in civil war and puts America's Syrian Kurdish partners "in harm's way," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday.
Washington is "greatly disappointed" by the Turkish incursion, Esper said at a Pentagon news conference, adding that the invasion has damaged relations with Turkey, a NATO ally. It also has raised the prospect of losing control of thousands of captured Islamic State fighters.
Esper called on the Turks to halt their operation, but he told reporters that he has no indication they are willing to do so.
"To be clear," Esper said, "we are not abandoning our Kurdish partner forces, and U.S. troops remain with them in other parts of Syria. The impulsive action of President Erdogan to invade northern Syria has put the United States in a tough situation."
Speaking alongside Esper, Gen. Mark Milley said the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish military known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, is still guarding the camps holding IS prisoners.
Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Turkish military operations across the border into Syria are "still relatively limited." He also called on the Syrian Kurds to show restraint so that a diplomatic solution might emerge.
The remarks were the Pentagon's most explicit criticism of the Turkish operation, which began Wednesday as a campaign against the Syrian Kurd-led militia that has partnered with U.S. forces over the past five years to fight the Islamic State.
President Donald Trump has called the invasion a "bad idea" and held out the possibility of the U.S. mediating a settlement.
A senior Turkish official in Washington suggested that the U.S. mediation offer would not be welcomed in Ankara due to Turkey's opposition to negotiating with terrorists.
The official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said previous efforts to broker deals with the Kurds had failed because negotiating "will not change their basic motivation and will not change their tactics."