Turkey attacks places not source of violence - Defence Secretary Mattis
U.S. Secretary of Defence James Mattis discussed issues relating to Turkey and Syria's ongoing conflict as he returned home following a trip to Europe on February 17th.
Mattis stressed that Turkey and the U.S. are allies and acknowledged that Turkey has legitimate security concerns related to Syria. However, Mattis was critical of operation “Olive Branch”, the Turkish incursion into Afrin, a region in north-west Syria that has been controlled by Kurdish groups Ankara views as terrorists since 2012.
“…while we understand their legitimate security concerns, as I've mentioned several times, that does not align with us concurring with attacks into areas that were not sources of violence before the attack into Afrin, for example.”
Mattis was also asked how mechanisms intended to reduce tensions between Turkey and the U.S. would function in Afrin and Manbij, another area of Syria that has been a source of friction between the two countries. He was unable to provide specific details, stating they had yet to be drawn up, but that both countries were committed to doing so. Mattis, in his response, mentioned only Afrin as a place which the mechanisms might be applied without giving any specifics, and without mentioning Manbij.
Discussing another issue related to Syria, namely possible Russian involvement in recent clashes with U.S. backed Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) near Dier al-Zour in Eastern Syria, Mattis struck a cautious tone.
“I understand that the Russian government now is saying some of their not military forces, but contractors, were involved in that still unexplained attack on the SDF forces to east of the river. In other words, to east of the deconfliction line, and again, apparently, to the apparent unawareness of the Russian officers that we coordinate with on the deconfliction communication line.
So it is what it is. I still cannot give you any more information on why they would do this. The -- but they took direction from someone. Was it local direction? Was it from external sources? Don't ask me. I don't know. But I doubt that 257 people all just decided on their individual own selves to suddenly cross the river into enemy territory and start shelling a location and maneuvering tanks against it.”