Turkey has legitimate security concerns along border with Syria and we do not dismiss that, says US defence secretary
US Defense Secretary James Mattis has acknowledged that some members of the PYD/PKK-led SDF had shifted to Afrin, Syria amid Turkey’s ongoing operation against the groups in the border region, according to Anadolu news agency.
“The distraction of what’s going on up in Afrin right now, which is drawing off some of the [SDF] forces, which have got about 50 percent,” Mattis told reporters during his flight to Europe on Sunday, adding that the percentage could be less or more.
As for the reason for the armed group’s mobilisation to Afrin, he said is because they believe “their fellow Kurds” in Afrin to be under attack, referring to Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in the northwestern Syrian province to clear PYD/PKK elements from there.
The US has long supported the PYD/PKK-led SDF as a “reliable ally” in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), over the strong objections of Ankara, which had documented that it is the Syrian branch of PKK.
The PKK – listed as a terrorist group by the US, EU, and Turkey – has taken some 40,000 lives in Turkey, including 1,200 since July 2015.
Describing Turkey as the only NATO ally with an active revolt facing it, Mattis also reiterated that Ankara has real security concerns in the region.
“They [Turkey] have a legitimate security concern, and we do not dismiss one bit of that, along that border with Syria,” he stated, adding that Washington will continue to work closely with Turkey.
The PYD/PKK in Afrin has launched hundreds of rocket attacks on Turkey across the border, including dozens since late last month, killing and injuring many civilians.
The Pentagon had previously stated that some PYD/PKK-led SDF elements were shifting its fighters, but did not specify where they were headed.
Mattis is expected to meet his Turkish counterpart Nurettin Canikli in Brussels this week.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to clear PYD/PKK and ISIL from Afrin, northwestern Syria.