The United States reiterated its commitment to Turkey that it will take back heavy weapons it delivered to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) but refrained to give a certain time frame during high-level bilateral political and military talks in the Turkish capital Ankara on Jan. 23 and 24.
“We did tell them that we do intend to fulfill that commitment. But I can’t give you a specific time frame,” a senior U.S. official told the Hürriyet Daily News on Jan. 24 about the U.S. promises over the weapons given to the YPG. The official also informed that only heavy weapons delivered to the YPG would be collected.
But the official reiterated the U.S.’s well-known position that they will continue to cooperate with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group mainly consisting of YPG militants, to ensure that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) will be fully cleared from Syria.
Ties between Turkey and the U.S. have strained over a number of issues, but the latter’s military support to the YPG pitted the two long-standing allies against each other. Turkey considers the YPG as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and, therefore, as terrorist. The U.S., however, regards the group as the most efficient ground force in the fight against ISIL and has supplied it with heavy weapons.
The official informed that updated inventory of the weapons given to the YPG were being provided to the Turkish military every month, but rejected senior Turkish official claims that more than 4,000 trucks carried weapons to the YPG. “A vast majority of these deliveries go to the U.S. forces,” the official said, informing that they included food and other needs of their troops on the ground.
Turkey on Jan. 20 launched a massive military operation against the YPG in Syria’s northwestern district of Afrin and vowed that it will expand it to Manbij area of Syria where YPG troops are located along with U.S. forces.
Amid all these problems, a senior U.S. delegation under the leadership of Deputy Assistant Secretary Jonathan Cohen and with the participation of representatives from the Pentagon and the US defense and justice ministries held talks in Ankara on Jan 23. and 24. The Turkish group was headed by Deputy Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ahmet Muhtar Gün.
As the visit comes only days after the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) launched the “Olive Branch Operation,” the two sides’ diplomats and soldiers discussed all aspects of the developments in Syria and Iraq as well.
“We recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns on its border,” the official said, underscoring that those armed forces in Afrin were not part of the anti-ISIL coalition.
“We continue to urge restraint and to ensure that the Turkish military operation remains limited in scope to avoid civilian casualties. We call on all partners to focus on our common goal of defeating in Syria and to work together for the future of Syria,” said the official.
“What they [Turkish officials] have been saying is that they are extremely cautious to avoid civilian casualties. We have been briefed of a number of targets they have decided not to strike because of concerns over collateral damage in civilian casualties,” the official added.
Security zone in Afrin
The American delegation also brought up a proposal first voiced by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for the formation of a security zone in Afrin, the official said, adding: “We raised the matter with the Turks.
But Turks were not ready to engage in detail on that matter.”Turkish and American officials have also discussed what the two allies can do against the presence of the PKK in Syria as well as curb the financial resources of the group in Europe.
The Hürriyet Daily News has learned that Cohen will go to Brussels after Ankara to continue his talks on the fight against the PKK with his European counterparts.