Airstrikes launched by Turkish warplanes on Tuesday that killed U.S. Kurdish allies in Iraq and Syria were described as “unsafe,” according to Air Force Col. John Dorrian, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve.
Officials in Baghdad claim Turkey provided less than an hour notification to coalition forces before launching strikes against Kurdish positions in Sinjar, Iraq, and northeastern Syria.
That amount of time was “inadequate for us to ensure the safety of our forces on the ground; we had forces within six miles of the strike,” Dorrian said. “This was notification and not coordination, as you would expect from a partner and an ally.”
U.S. forces operating in northeastern Syria are working in a very large “operations box,” Dorrian explained, and need adequate coordination and notification of impending operations in the region to ensure their safety.
U.S. military officials were not provided any further information about the location of the target or the objective of the strikes, only that Turkey planned to conduct strikes against terrorist targets.
However, the resulting strikes led to the deaths of a number of U.S. Kurdish allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces and Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government, operating near Sinjar.
These forces are “integral to fighting ISIS, reliable and making progress” in the fight against the Islamic State, Dorrian said. “These are our partner forces.”
Following the strikes by Turkish warplanes, the U.S. military dispatched troops to the scene in Syria to conduct a damage assessment and to check on its partner forces.
The Turkish foreign affairs ministry pushed back on these claims, stating that U.S. and Russian forces were adequately informed “in line with the bilateral deconfliction arrangements regarding Syria and Iraq.”
The Turkish government also stated it will “continue its fight against terrorism of all kinds” and the highlighted that “terrorist elements cannot be legitimate partners in the fight against terrorism.”
Senior members of the Syrian Democratic Forces sought reassurances from the U.S. government after the Turkish airstrikes. “We are fighting against [ISIS] with the United States, and Turkey is hitting us from behind, giving [ISIS] more oxygen,” said Ilham Ahmed, the co-chair of the Democratic Syrian Council, in an interview with
Al-Monitor. "We demand that the United States establish a no-fly zone to protect us against further aggression."
Both Turkey and the U.S. have designated the Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK, a militant group operating in northern Syria and Iraq, as a terrorist group. However, Turkey has accused U.S. Kurdish allies — the People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish militia in Syria, and the Syrian Democratic Forces — of supporting the PKK.
The disagreement could impact ongoing operations in Raqqa. Syrian Democratic Forces continue to choke off Raqqa, the self-declared capital of the Islamic State caliphate.
SDF forces are currently poised to liberate the city of Tabqa, a major hurdle in their final advance to take Tabqa dam. The seizure of the dam will complete the envelopment of Raqqa city by the SDF and the Syrian Arab Coalition before the final assault on Raqqa commences.
Fighting in and around Tabqa is fierce as nearly 700 ISIS fighters remain in the city, Dorrian said. The city was also home to ISIS’ main prison and served as a staging area for ISIS fighters.