U.S. downplays Turkish troop moves near Syrian border
World Bulletin/News Desk
U.S. defense chiefs on Friday downplayed Turkey's deployment of troops and military vehicles toward its border with Syria, saying the movements didn't appear aimed at escalating tensions with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A Turkish official on Thursday described the movement as a precaution after Syrian air defenses shot down a Turkish warplane a week ago.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta noted that Turkey has maintained troops along the border.
"And I wouldn't read too much into the movements that have been in the press," Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon.
Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that "I wouldn't read that as provocative in any way."
Dempsey, who recently spoke with his Turkish counterpart, General Necdet Ozel, added: "You'd probably have to ask the Turks. I've asked them and they are not seeking to be provocative."
Commenting on his conversation with Ozel, Dempsey said: "He's taking a very measured approach to the incident. So he and I are staying in contact."
Turkish commanders on Friday inspected missile batteries deployed in the border region, seen as a graphic warning to Assad after last Friday's shoot-down of the Turkish plane.
"A nation loses in this case two airmen to a hostile act, it will of course increase the risk of escalation. But [...] the internal movement of their ground forces, -- I wouldn't read that as provocative in any way. [...] I've asked them, and they are not seeking to be provocative," Dempsey told reporters in a press conference.
US Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta said the United States continued to be concerned about developments in Syria.
"We are in discussions. Turkey is one of our allies in that region. We continue to be in close discussions with them with regards to how we best approach the situation in Syria. They have maintained troops, as I understand it, along the border. And I wouldn't read too much into the movements that have been in the press," Panetta said.
Turkey has begun moving troops and armored units to the border with Syria just days after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was changing rules of engagement of the Turkish Armed Forces.
"Any Syrian military element approaching the Turkish border from Syria will be considered as a military threat and dealt with accordingly," Erdogan has said.
The unarmed Turkish plane was shot down by Syria while on a training and test mission after unintentionally strayed into Syrian airspace but it was quickly warned by Turkish authorities to leave.
The incident has drawn widespread condemnation amid the continuing violence in Syria.
Turkey said the Syrian act constituted a violation of international law and that Ankara would take "every necessary measure."
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