The White House said Tuesday that Turkey has the “right to defend themselves” from Kurdish militant groups in northern Syria and Iraq following massive Turkish airstrikes in the region.
“Turkey does continue to suffer a legitimate terrorist threat, particularly to their south. They certainly have every right to defend themselves and their citizens,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
Turkey launched the strikes in response to a bombing in Istanbul that killed six people, which it blamed on the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliates, including the US-backed SDF. The operations killed members of the SDF, and they reportedly responded by firing rockets into a Turkish district near the Syrian border.
Kirby’s only warning was that the Turkish assault could impact US and SDF operations against ISIS. He said the Turkish operation “might force a reaction by some of our SDF partners that would limit and constrain their ability to fight against ISIS…and we want to be able to keep the pressure on ISIS.”
The statement from Kirby marks a shift in the US approach to Turkey’s operations against Kurds in Syria. The US typically condemns them but is not doing so now, likely because it wants Turkey to approve Sweden and Finland’s NATO bids.
The State Department issued a short statement on the fighting between the two US allies on Monday that called for de-escalation. “We urge de-escalation in Syria to protect civilian life and support the common goal of defeating ISIS. We continue to oppose any uncoordinated military action in Iraq that violates Iraq’s sovereignty,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.