World

US military says it’s not abandoning Kurds

By AAP Newswire

The Pentagon has strongly denied accusations it has abandoned its Syrian Kurdish allies to a Turkish military onslaught.

US President Trump's decision to pull back troops from Syria's border with Turkey has been widely criticised in Washington as a tacit "green light" for a Turkish offensive that intensified on Friday.

"Nobody green-lighted this operation by Turkey, just the opposite. We pushed back very hard at all levels for the Turks not to commence this operation," Defence Secretary Mark Esper told a news briefing on Friday.

Esper and Army General Mark Milley said they had spoken with their Turkish counterparts repeatedly in recent days, asking them to stop. But there was no sense that Turkey would do so, they said.

"I'm not seeing any indication or warnings of any planned stoppage of their military activity," said Milley, the top US military officer.

Shortly after Milley spoke, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan warned he would not stop his assault against Kurdish fighters no matter what anyone said.

A war monitor said the death toll approached 100 from the first days of the assault, which began on Wednesday.

The toll included 17 civilians as well as dozens of Kurdish fighters and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.

The Kurdish YPG is the main fighting element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which have acted as the principal allies of the US in a campaign that recaptured territory held by the Islamic State group.

The SDF now holds most of the territory that once made up Islamic State's "caliphate" in Syria, and has been keeping thousands of Islamic State fighters in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.

Reuters reported on Tuesday an initial pause in counter-Islamic State operations by America's Kurdish allies, who are redirecting their focus to the border.

Although he acknowledged the Turkish assault was having an impact, Milley suggested some operations had continued, without elaborating.

The US this week moved two high-profile Islamic State prisoners being held by the Syrian forces out of Syria.

Milley said Turkish General Yasar Guler "understands clearly" that the prisoners in the areas where Turkey carries out the offensive would be Ankara's responsibility.

"We, the US military, have no responsibility to ... secure those ISIS prisoners in Syria," Milley said.

The Pentagon also stressed the need for Turkey to avoid doing anything to endanger US forces inside Syria, which numbered about 1000 prior to the incursion.

Although US troops had no intention of firing on Turkey, its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, the Pentagon noted they had the right to defend themselves if needed.

Milley added that Turkey had been told of US positions in Syria.

"The Turkish military is fully aware - down to explicit grid co-ordinate detail - of the locations of US forces," he said.