Turkish strikes harming counter-IS operations, US, Kurds say

BEIRUT (AP) — U.S. and Kurdish military officials said Tuesday that Turkish airstrikes and a threatened ground invasion in northern Syria are impacting their joint operations against the Islamic State extremist group.

Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northeast Syria, told reporters that the group’s joint counter-IS operations alongside the U.S.-led international coalition have been “temporarily paused” because of the recent Turkish airstrikes, and that gains made in the fight against the extremist group to date may be “threatened.”

Also on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Air Force Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters that the U.S. has cut back on the number of “partnered patrols” it is carrying out alongside the SDF.

“They have reduced the number of patrols that they’re doing, and so that therefore necessitates us to reduce the patrols,” he said.

However, he added, “We’ve not redeployed any of our folks. We continue to stay very focused on countering the ISIS threat.”

On Saturday, the U.S. military said two rockets targeted U.S.-led coalition forces at bases in the northeastern Syrian town of Shaddadeh resulting in no “injuries or damage to the base or coalition property.”

Mazloum added that statements by Turkish officials as well as intelligence reports indicated Ankara is preparing for a ground invasion and urged the U.S. and other allies to take a stronger stance against such a move.

Turkey has launched a barrage of airstrikes on suspected militant targets in northern Syria and Iraq in recent days, in retaliation for a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on the Kurdish groups. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also threatened a ground incursion, without specifying when it would be launched.

While the U.S. and other international partners have voiced opposition to a ground offensive and urged de-escalation, Mazloum said the statements are “not (strong) enough to deter the Turks from launching this offensive.”

Turkey has carried out a series of incursions into Syria since 2016 and already controls parts of northern Syria. Erdogan said the new military offensive, planned to take place “at the most convenient time for us” would target the regions of Tel Rifaat, Manbij and Kobani, which is also known by its Arabic name Ayn Al Arab.