The Trump administration is working behind-the-scenes to mediate a ceasefire between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, but it’s unclear whether its efforts will have any effect. But for now, the United States believes that the Turkish campaign in Syria is limited.
A senior State Department official talked to reporters about the state of the U.S.-Turkey relationship during an afternoon conference call on Thursday. The call was a rare glimpse into the thought processes of the department, which has been unusually silent on Syria.
As a condition of participating in the call, the National Interest agreed not to mention the official by name.
The senior official explained that President Donald Trump has made “four decisions” guiding current U.S. policy towards the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Arab-Assyrian alliance in northeastern Syria that was backed by the United States until a Sunday night announcement by Trump.
After a phone call with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Trump ordered U.S. troops to leave the border between Syria and Turkey, where they had been participating in a “security mechanism” alongside Turkish troops. On Tuesday, Turkey announced “Operation Peace Spring,” an invasion of the SDF-held zone.
“The U.S. will not endorse this invasion or give it any kind of political cover,” the State Department official said, repeatedly emphasizing that the United States sees Turkey’s move as a “bad idea.”
The official also said that Trump decided to neither support the Turkish operation nor oppose it with military force. Finally, the official added, the U.S. government will impose “significant costs” if Turkey does anything deemed disproportionate or inhumane.
“It would include ethnic cleansing…indiscriminate air, artillery, and other fire directed at civilian populations,” the official said. “We are not seeing significant examples of that so far.”
At a press briefing earlier in the day, an SDF diplomat had accused Turkey of just that. “All this region is inhabited. All these are cities,” said Sinam Mohamad, co-chair of the U.S. Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council. “Now, [Erdoğan] is telling [Trump], ‘I am not targeting the civilians.’ It’s not true. First day, we had five civilians die, yesterday.”
“In a district of Qamishli City . . . a child of six years old died. So they are not shelling the civilians,” she added.