High-ranking U.S. government figures have sent mixed signals on their stance on Turkey’s ongoing operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Washington’s partner in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria.
Turkey has legitimate security concerns over insurgency inside its borders, the U.S. state and defense secretaries have recognized, but the latter also told reporters aboard a plane headed for Asia that the ground and air offensive against the YPG in the northwestern Syrian district of Afrin are “distracting from international efforts” to ensure the defeat of ISIL.
“We take very seriously Turkey’s legitimate security concerns and we are committed to work with our NATO allies on those,” Mattis said in the Indonesian capital Jakarta at the start of the Asia tour on Jan. 23.
“We urge Turkey to exercise restraint in the military action and the rhetoric,” he added.
“The violence in Afrin disrupts what was a relatively stable area in Syria and distracts from the international effort to defeat ISIS,” Mattis said, using another acronym for the jihadist group.
He called on all parties to remain focused on defeating ISIL.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blasted the U.S. during a speech in Ankara on Jan. 22, asking Washington if “the time limit in Afghanistan or Iraq has expired.”
“The U.S. is urging that the operation should not last too long and should be conducted within a certain time frame. I ask the U.S.: Does your operation in Afghanistan, which you launched more than 10 years ago, have a certain time frame? When will it be completed? You are also still in Iraq, aren’t you? Do these kinds of operations have a certain time frame?” Erdoğan added.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, for his side, said on Jan. 22 that Washington is discussing with Turkey and others the possibility of setting up a security zone on the Syria border to address Turkey’s concerns about the YPG.
The U.S. wants Turkey to try to be precise in its operation and to limit the operation by showing restraint, Tillerson said while traveling in Europe.
He said a security zone could help “stabilize the situation and meet Turkey’s legitimate concerns” for security.
Turkey considers the YPG a terror organization because of its affiliation to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch” on the YPG came after the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIL said in a Jan. 14 statement that it would build a 30,000-strong new border security force with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the YPG.