Esper: “Turkey created a ‘very terrible’ situation in Syria”

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has levelled serious criticism of Turkey’s invasion of Syria.

While speaking at an event organized in Brussels by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) think tank, Esper said, “Look, I’ve been very candid about this,” pointedly saying “Turkey put us all in a very terrible situation” – in apparent reference to the 29 North American and European member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an intergovernmental military alliance known its acronym, NATO. The GMF is a nonpartisan public policy and grantmaking institution dedicated to advancing cooperation and understanding between North America and Europe.

According to the Pentagon Chief, Turkey’s offensive “was unwarranted,”and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was “fixated on making this incursion for one reason or another.” He then nevertheless stressed “there was not a possibility that we were going to start a war with a NATO ally – a NATO ally who’s been a very good ally since its joining the alliance in 1952, I think.”

Secretary Esper went on to caution that Turkey is heading in the wrong direction vis-à-vis the NATO alliance, and urged Ankara to demonstrate it is still a “responsible” NATO ally. “On any number of issues, we see them spinning closer into Russia’s orbit than into the Western orbit,” he called “unfortunate.” Esper pointedly said, “we all need to work together to strengthen our partnership with Turkey and make sure they trend back to being the strong reliable ally, responsible ally that they’ve been in the past.”

Last week, Esper declared his intention to press NATO allies “to take collective and individual diplomatic and economic measures in response” to Turkey’s incursion into northeastern Syria, even as critics argued that U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces enabled Ankara’s offensive against Kurdish fighters in the area.

Regarding increasing concern the American pull-out could foster the resurgence of Islamic State militants, Esper told the GMF that he has already held “brief conversations” on the matter with “my British and French counterparts” which he would follow up on during a meeting of NATO defense ministers later in the day. He then reaffirmed Washington’s commitment “to continue the defeat of ISIS operations. “

“We need to figure out what the next steps look like in this new phase of the campaign,” said Esper, adding that “many others in Europe should help contribute to the mission.”