Turkey’s operations in Syria are distracting from efforts to ensure the defeat of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and risk “exacerbating the humanitarian crisis” in the country, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said.
He noted that Ankara’s operation against Kurdish fighters in Afrin, northern Syria, also risks worsening the humanitarian crisis in the area, as well as in other parts of the country.
He urged Turkey to exercise restraint, stating that it has already disrupted the peaceful return of refugees and could be seen as an opportunity for Al-Qaeda and IS.
“This could be exploited by ISIS and Al-Qaeda, obviously, that we’re not staying focused on them right now. And obviously it risks exacerbating the humanitarian crisis that most of Syria is going through,” Mattis said.
However, the US official added that Washington understands Turkey’s security concerns, citing what he called an active Kurdish insurgency inside Turkish borders.
The comments were made to reporters during Mattis’s trip to Indonesia, where he met with senior government officials on Tuesday.
Turkey launched ‘Operation Olive Branch’ against Kurdish fighters in Afrin on Saturday, accusing them of terrorism. Ankara says the operation is in line with international law and that it is taking care to avoid civilian casualties. However, reports from Kurds have claimed that the operation has already led to multiple civilians losing their lives.
The campaign has been condemned by the Syrian government, while Russia has urged restraint and respect for Syria’s territorial integrity. Moscow has also emphasized the importance of focusing international efforts on the Syrian peace process following the defeat of IS.
Photo: Reuters / News Source: Russia Today