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 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 stabilise a swath of Syria.
Speaking with Mr Erdogan by telephone, Mr Trump became the latest U.S. official to try to rein in the offensive and to pointedly flag the risk of the two allies’ forces coming into conflict.
“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 two leaders’ discussion of Operation Olive Branch was limited to an exchange of views,” the source said.
Mr Trump said in response to Erdogan’s call on the United States to end the delivery of weapons to the YPG that the United States no longer supplied the group with weapons and pledged not to resume the weapons delivery in the future, the source said.
The offensive has opened a new front in Syria’s multi-sided, seven-year-old civil war and complicated U.S. efforts in Syria.
The United States hopes to use the YPG’s control of the area to give it the diplomatic muscle it needs to revive U.N.-led talks in Geneva on a deal that would end Syria’s civil war and eventually lead to the ouster of President Bashar Assad.