Mike Pompeo. AFP

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has denied the US gave Turkey a “green light” for its offensive in Syria.

Pompeo defended President Donald Trump’s widely criticised decision to withdraw US troops from the northern border area.

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Pompeo added that Turkey had a “legitimate security concern” and “a terrorist threat to their south”.

He said reports the US had allowed Turkey to launch the offensive were “just false”.

“The United States didn’t give Turkey a green light,” he said.

Turkey on Wednesday launched an assault on territory held by Kurdish-led forces – key allies of the US in the region.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the aim was to “prevent the creation of a terror corridor” on the border.

Turkey said its plan was to create a “safe zone” cleared of Kurdish militias which will also house Syrian refugees.

But critics say the operation could lead to ethnic cleansing of the local Kurdish population in northern Syria and a revival of the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

Kurdish-led forces vowed to resist the offensive and have already clashed with Turkish troops.

The Kurds – who helped defeat IS in Syria and were key US allies in that fight – guard thousands of IS fighters and their relatives in prisons and camps in areas under their control. It is unclear whether they will continue to do so if battles break out.

The US military says it has taken custody of two British detainees notorious for their roles in an IS cell that tortured and killed nearly 30 Western hostages.

The two men, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, were part of a British cell nicknamed The Beatles.

They have now been removed from a prison run by the Kurdish-led militia in northern Syria.