While the Defense Department has not given Turkey the green light to invade northeast Syria, U.S. troops won't stop the Turks if they cross into territory held by Syrian Kurdish fighters, a defense official said on Monday.
The White House announced late on Sunday night that U.S. troops were withdrawing from northeast Syria because Turkey planned to launch "its long-planned operation" into the region.
On Monday, the U.S. military ceased flying joint air operations with Turkey along its border with Syria, said Pentagon spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. Carla Gleason. Turkey will also no longer receive continuous video surveillance of the Syrian border that had been provided by U.S. drones.
Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman stressed the Defense Department does "not endorse" any Turkish military incursion into Syria.
Both Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Gen, Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have warned their Turkish counterparts that "unilateral action creates risks for Turkey," Hoffman said in a Monday statement.
"As the president has stated, Turkey would be responsible, along with European nations and others, for thousands of ISIS fighters who had been captured and defeated in the campaign lead by the United States," Hoffman said. "We will work with our other NATO allies and Coalition partners to reiterate to Turkey the possible destabilizing consequences of potential actions to Turkey, the region, and beyond."
A 2:03 p.m. tweet from Esper's official account reiterated Hoffman's message, but the tweet was subsequently deleted without any public explanation why.
The Defense Department's protestations may be moot at this point. An Israeli reporter tweeted video on Monday that purportedly showed Turkish artillery strikes on its border with Syria and Iraq.