Mar 07 2018

Turkey’s Syria incursion risks humanitarian crisis – U.S.

Turkey’s ongoing offensive against the Kurdish-held Syrian enclave of Afrin risks sparking a humanitarian crisis, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said at a briefing late on Tuesday.

Turkey’s cross-border incursion into Syria, which began on Jan. 20, has strained ties with its NATO ally the United States. Turkey says its aim is to push the majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) out of Afrin. The United States backs the YPG, however, which makes up the backbone of forces fighting Islamic State (ISIS).

“We have real concerns about that because of an escalation of violence,” Nauert said. 

“We have called for however long this has been going on – a month or so – for a de-escalation of violence.  The more that we would see Turkish forces enter into Syria proper, deeper into Syria, the more that it stands to create a potential humanitarian crisis.” 

Nauert said Turkey already needed to set up camps for those displaced as a result of the conflict.

“I think this further underscores the importance of the UN Security Council resolution that calls for a nationwide ceasefire,” she said. “Having a nationwide ceasefire would certainly help to stabilize the situation.”

The continued Afrin crisis was detracting from the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State (ISIS), Nauert said.

“There’s a concern about some of the forces that the United States and coalition partners are working with not being solely focused on the fight against ISIS because, for familiar reasons and other reasons, they’re being – heading over to the Afrin area,” she said.

“I do want to add that we also understand that Turkey, a NATO ally, has some legitimate security concerns, but we want the overall de-escalation of violence, whether it’s in Afrin or whether it’s in Eastern Ghouta.”

Nauert also thanked Turkish police and officials for arresting four ISIS militants who were allegedly planning an attack on the U.S. embassy in Ankara, leading it to close for two days.

“They addressed a legitimate security issue,” she said. The United States thanked Turkish officials, she said, for “a job well done”.