US calls for historic NATO sanctions on Turkey

NATO powers might sanction Turkey over the assault on U.S. partners that has “resulted in the release of many dangerous ISIS detainees,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said.

“Due to Turkey’s irresponsible actions, the risk to U.S. forces in northeast Syria has reached an unacceptable level,” Esper said Monday. “I will be visiting NATO next week in Brussels, where I plan to press our other NATO allies to take collective and individual diplomatic and economic measures in response to these egregious Turkish actions.”

Esper’s comments raise the prospect of a historic move by NATO member-states to punish one of the nations bound by the security bloc’s collective defense pledge. Turkey, meanwhile, has demanded NATO support for the offensive. Erdoğan even asked for U.S. military aid against the Syrian Kurdish militias, but Trump ordered the Special Forces operators to withdraw from the area rather than risk being caught in a crossfire, according to U.S. officials.

“The contributions we have made so far is for the security of our country, the region, and our allies,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said last week. “Within the framework of indivisibility of security, Turkey expects naturally and legitimately that our allies stand in solidarity.”

Turkey has justified the assault on the Syrian Kurds as a counterterrorism operation, given the ties between the Syrian Kurdish militias and a militant group of Turkish Kurds known as the PKK. U.S. officials have acknowledged those ties, but they credited the Syrian Kurds with helping dismantle ISIS.

“This unacceptable incursion has also undermined the successful multinational ‘Defeat ISIS’ mission in Syria and resulted in the release of many dangerous ISIS detainees,” Esper said.

Trump ordered the withdrawal of U.S. special operators from northern Syria amid Turkish artillery shelling that landed suspiciously close to American military positions. The incident took place hours after Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured reporters that “the Turkish military is fully aware, down to explicit grid coordinate detail, of the locations of U.S. forces.”

Esper’s announcement came on the heels of Trump unveiling a series of economic punishments for Turkey, though some analysts viewed it as a modest rebuke relative to the decision to remove the U.S. forces, who were the last obstacle to Erdoğan’s offensive.

The Syria controversy has worsened an already tense relationship with Turkey, just months after Trump expelled Turkey from the F-35 stealth fighter program due to Erdoğan’s insistence on purchasing advanced Russian anti-aircraft missile defense systems.

“President Erdoğan bears full responsibility for its consequences, to include a potential ISIS resurgence, possible war crimes, and a growing humanitarian crisis,” Esper said. “The bilateral relationship between our two countries has also been damaged.”


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