Jan 19 2018

U.S. State Dept: Turkish Afrin offensive would destabilise region

A Turkish military operation against the northwest Syrian Afrin region would hurt regional stability and could be counterproductive to Turkish border security, a senior U.S. State Department official said.

Ankara has been making preparations to strike the Syrian-Kurdish enclave of Afrin since news hit headlines last Sunday of plans to establish a U.S.-backed border force including fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, considered terrorists by Turkey.

Such an incursion would not “(serve) the cause of regional stability, Syrian stability, or indeed Turkish concerns about the security of their border”, the State Department official told journalists in a teleconference on Friday.

The official reiterated United States’ “consistent” message of support to the Turkish government on their concerns about the security of the Turkish-Syrian and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terror in Turkey, but said Turkey’s threats and activities around Afrin were “destabilising”.

Turkish concerns over the reported “border force”, which U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said had been “misportrayed”, were also unfounded, said the official.

These are elements drawn from all of the ethnic communities in northern Syria, not just the Kurds, to achieve, to help facilitate basic local security which is a key element of stabilization.  That stabilization is in turn a very positive element in any long term security arrangements for the north, which ultimately serve Turkish purposes.

The United States’ activities in Syria were aimed at wiping out the remaining influence of the extremist jihadist Islamic State, which had controlled large territories in the region until its defeat in 2017, said the official. For this, cooperation with the Kurdish-majority Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), also considered a PKK affiliate by Turkey, is necessary:

We will continue to explain what we are actually doing, what our intentions are, what’s happening on the ground to Ankara.  We believe what we are doing shouldn’t be seen as challenging or threatening.  It is not a reconstruction or a sustainment of those heavy forces required to fight house by house in Raqqa.  That fight’s over.  And the whole nature of our military relationship with provision of military support to arms to the SDF has changed as the nature of security and security needs in northern and northeastern Syria have changed now to local and internal purposes.