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New sanctions will not harm U.S.-Turkey cooperation in Syria, says Pentagon

August 6, 2018

Ongoing military cooperation between American and Turkish forces in Syria will not be thrown off track by the Trump administration’s recently announced economic sanctions against the NATO ally, despite harsh condemnation by Ankara of Washington’s recent efforts.

Plans for U.S. forces to begin conducting joint operations with their Turkish counterparts in the northern Syrian town of Manbij are continuing apace, Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said Monday.

American and Turkish commanders in the country continue to seek out “a viable way ahead” in Manbij and elsewhere in Syria, despite the recent round of U.S. sanctions against top members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s cabinet, Col. Manning told reporters at the Pentagon.

“Our military to military relationship [with Turkey] is something that we remain committed to,” Col. Manning said, reiterating that NATO and all of its member nations including Turkey remain closely allied with Washington.

Last week’s meeting between Gen. Curtis Scapriotti, head of U.S. European Command, and Gen. Yasar Guler, Turkish Chief of General Staff, was evidence of that commitment, Col. Manning said.

Roughly 200 Turkish troops are deployed in and around the Manbij pocket, with more forces expected, says Ankara. Approximately 2,000 American troops are stationed in the city and elsewhere across Syria, according to Pentagon figures.

U.S. forces recently sent in deliveries of weapons and equipment, so Turkish units could begin training and familiarizing themselves with the U.S. materiel, as part of a nascent agreement between Washington and Ankara to begin joint operations in the near future.

Pentagon officials estimate the training period to last between four to six weeks, after which joint operations can begin, but did not comment on what kinds or types of American military equipment Turkish forces will be trained on, to facilitate joint operations.

Currently, forces from both countries are carrying out independent operations in the city with U.S. troops focused on clearing remaining pockets of Islamic State resistance and Turkish troops targeting Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG and their Syrian affiliate Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Turkey has labeled both groups as terrorist organizations. Both are also critical elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S.-backed confederation of Arab and Kurdish paramilitaries who flushed the Islamic State from its Syrian capital of Raqqa last year.

The U.S.-Turkish agreement to begin military cooperation, known as the Manbij roadmap, was inked last month. The agreement was seen as an effort to restore the strained relationship between Washington and Turkey, which unraveled over U.S. support for the SDF.

But the goodwill generated by the Manbij agreement was undercut last week, The Trump administration slapped a new round of economic sanctions against two top Turkish government officials on Wednesday, in response to Ankara’s continued imprisonment of an American citizen on terrorism charges.

Officials from the Treasury Department targeted Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu in the new round of sanctions, marking the first time U.S. officials have levied such penalties against a fellow NATO ally.

The move is in response to the continued detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been in Turkish custody for the past 18 months on terrorism charges, due to his alleged ties to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. Ankara claims Mr. Gulen was responsible for coordinating the coup attempt.

The sanctions, which targeted Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu marking the first time U.S. officials have levied such penalties against a fellow NATO ally were unveiled by the White House during Gen. Scapriotti’s visit.

On Saturday, Mr. Erdogan fired back against the Trump White House’s efforts to sanction Turkey, telling members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that Washington would suffer the consequences of the move.

“Those who think that they can make Turkey take a step back by resorting to threatening language and absurd sanctions show that they do not know the Turkish nation,” he said during the APK rally in Antalya.

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