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US urges halt to Turkish, Kurdish clashes in northern Syria

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ANKARA, Turkey — The United States urged Turkish troops and Kurdish forces in northern Syria to halt their fighting Monday, saying it hinders efforts to defeat the Islamic State.

But Turkey's president vowed to press ahead with the military operation until the ISIS and Kurdish Syrian fighters no longer pose a security threat to Ankara.

Turkish officials responded to Washington's demand by insisting that Kurdish forces ''immediately'' withdraw east of the Euphrates River or face more attacks by Turkish forces.

''No one has the right to tell Turkey to 'fight this terror organization but don't fight that terror organization,' '' said Omer Celik, a Turkish Cabinet minister.


The US criticism was the first against Turkey, its NATO ally, since Turkish forces launched an incursion into northern Syria to help Syrian rebels seize the town of Jarablus from the Islamic State. They have been clashing with Kurdish Syrian forces around the town to try to halt their advance.

The battle now pits Turkey against the Kurdish-led force known as the Syria Democratic Forces, a US-backed proxy that is the most effective ground force battling ISIS militants in Syria's 5-year-old civil war.

It puts Washington in the difficult spot of having to choose between two allies, and it is likely to divert resources from the fight against ISIS.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Washington has asked Turkey to ''stay focused'' on the fight against the Islamic State and not to engage with the SDF.

''We've called on both sides not to fight one another, not to fight each other,'' Carter said.

He told reporters at the Pentagon that General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to his Turkish counterpart Sunday. Carter added that he intends to discuss the issue next week in Europe with the Turkish defense minister, Fikri Isik.


Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the clashes were of ''deep concern,'' adding that they were not coordinated with US forces, ''and we do not support them.''

''Uncoordinated operations and maneuvers only provide room for ISIS to find sanctuary and continue planning attacks against Turkey, the SDF, the United States, and our partners around the world,'' the statement said.

Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper, in an online edition, quoted Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus as responding to the Pentagon by saying the US should keep to its promise and use its influence to press its Kurdish allies to withdraw to the east.