WASHINGTON – The Trump administration sharply criticized Turkey on Tuesday for attacking Kurdish militants in Syria and Iraq, accusing the U.S. NATO ally of failing to coordinate the airstrikes with the American-led coalition against Islamic State militants.
The State Department and Pentagon both described the United States as "deeply concerned" by the strikes and said the objections were raised directly with the Turkish government. They warned that Turkey's targeting of Kurdish groups could distract from the common campaign to defeat IS.
Syrian activists said the attack in Syria killed at least 18 members of the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units, a U.S. ally against IS. Turkey sees it as a terrorist group because of its ties to Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
And the Turkish attack in Iraq killed five members of the Iraqi Kurdish militia known as the peshmerga, another partner in the anti-IS coalition.
"We are very concerned, deeply concerned, that Turkey conducted airstrikes earlier today in northern Syria as well as northern Iraq without proper coordination with either the United States or the broader global coalition to defeat ISIS," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.
"These airstrikes were not approved by the coalition and led to the unfortunate loss of life of our partner forces in the fight against ISIS that includes members of the Kurdish peshmerga."
Toner noted Iraq's criticism of the attack on its soil and said any military action in that country "should respect Iraqi sovereignty."
Coordination among all partners is vital "to ensure the safety of all coalition personnel" in Iraq and Syria, he said.
Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said Turkey must prioritize the fight against IS.
"We recognize the threat the PKK poses to Turkey, but Turkey cannot pursue that fight at the expense of our common fight against terrorists that threaten us all," Rankine-Galloway said.
The U.S. sees Syria's Kurdish fighters as the most effective ground forces battling IS. Turkey says they're an extension of the PKK, and that PKK fighters are finding sanctuaries in Iraq and Syria.
A Turkish military statement said the pre-dawn strikes hit targets on Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq and a mountainous region in Syria. It said the operations were conducted to prevent infiltration of Kurdish rebels, weapons, ammunition and explosives from those areas into Turkey.
Iraq's Foreign Ministry denounced the strikes as a "violation" of its sovereignty and called on the international community to put an end to such "interference" by Turkey.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.