The Turkish invasion of neighboring Syria has resulted in widespread casualties, large numbers of refugees, widespread destruction and growing insecurity, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said.
The growing chaos in the region threatens to draw in American forces in the region, and as a result, President Donald J. Trump has ordered U.S. forces in northeast Syria to withdraw.
Esper also said Turkish President Recep Erdogan is to blame for undermining the successful multinational effort to defeat ISIS in Syria. The Turkish incursion has resulted in the release of many dangerous ISIS detainees, he said.
"Turkey's unilateral action was unnecessary and impulsive," the secretary said in a written statement. "President Erdogan bears full responsibility for its consequences, to include a potential ISIS resurgence, possible war crimes and a growing humanitarian crisis. The bilateral relationship between our two countries has also been damaged."
Turkey is a valued NATO ally, but Esper, who will be visiting NATO headquarters in Brussels next week, said he plans to press other NATO allies to take collective and individual diplomatic and economic measures in response to Turkey's "egregious" actions.
The United States is using a whole-of-government approach to the Turkish invasion, said administration officials speaking on background from the White House. The president is fully apprised on all actions and proposals, they said.
Trump signed an executive order yesterday, authorizing the imposition of sanctions against current and former officials of the government of Turkey and any person contributing to Turkey's destabilizing actions in north-eastern Syria. He also imposed steel tariffs up to 50% and halted negotiations on a $100-billion trade deal with Turkey.
"Given Turkey's current economic weakness, the action today is deeply serious and designed to focus Turkey's attention on the gravity of the situation in northeast Syria," an official said. "But we do remain committed to pursuing a negotiated resolution to the situation, which is why the president directed a senior-level delegation to depart for Ankara as quickly as possible to see what we can — if we can achieve a deal."
Turkey's invasion has upended one of the only success stories in the Middle East: the defeat of the ISIS physical caliphate. It also makes any resolution to the long-running Syrian civil war more problematic.
"What we're trying to do now is … restore the situation as best we can via ceasefire, by a reconciliation of the various interests that are in play at this time in the Northeast," one administration official said.
The players in north-eastern Syria include the mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, who have been allied with the United States; Turkish regular forces; Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces; Russian forces; Iranian-backed militias; and American forces, who are being withdrawn.
American forces in north-eastern Syria are being withdrawn in a deliberate manner, and officials will not discuss timelines or operational details. American forces at the Al Tanf military base are not affected by the order, officials said.