US State Dept. Spox asked if US general's visit to Syria was legal
Turkish foreign ministry on Monday summoned US ambassador Jeff Flake to convey Ankara's discomfort about a top US general visiting northeast Syria over the weekend, Turkey's state news agency reported citing diplomatic sources.
Sources also said Flake was asked to give an explanation about US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley's visit to a region under the control of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who according to Turkish officials has ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), designated a "terrorist group" by Ankara.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price confirmed later on Monday in a press briefing that Flake did go to the Turkish foreign ministry, "for meetings and discussions."
Price added that General Milley reportedly met only with U.S. troops during his visit to Syria.
"Of course, when it comes to General Milley's visit, we'd refer you to the Department of Defense; however, it's our understanding that General Milley met only with U.S. troops while in Syria. It was only an interaction with American service members."
That is when a reporter cited "media that is close to the SDF/YPG" which said that General Milley "did indeed meet with Mazloum Abdi, the head of the SDF," and asked Price:
"So the US Army chief travels to an area controlled by the YPG/PKK, and they are headed - the SDF is headed by someone who we all know comes from PKK ranks, and he ordered the killings of Turkish and Kurdish civilians as well as NATO soldiers. So just the optics of that, the US Army chief just doesn’t pop up anywhere around the world, so what is really the explanation for the visit?"
"But the US Army chief does pop up around the world to visit with US service members. That's what he did in this context. Our service members are deployed in Syria in service of a goal that we share with Turkiye as well as with our other allies as well as with all members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS."
The reporter then asked Price if he would consider the area under SDF control "to be part of Syria," and when Price replied affirmatively, the reporter pressed:
"Did the chairman get a visa to go there, in Syria?"
Price said: "If that’s a serious question, I would encourage you to talk to the Department of Defense."
Reporter: "It is a serious question. How does he go – that – if that area, if you still recognize that area as being part of Syria, the top military leader in the United States of America, he goes there, in and out, without consulting with that government, without doing anything – correct?"
Price: "I would refer you to the Department of Defense if that is, in fact, a serious question."