Mar 19 2018

U.S. deeply concerned by situation in Afrin

The U.S. Department of State released a press statement on Mar. 19 expressing concerns over the situation in Afrin.

Turkish troops and allied Syrian militias, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA) captured the centre of Afrin on Sunday, after a two-month offensive to clear Syrian Kurdish forces from the northwest Syrian town. 

Kurdish forces announced on Sunday that they had evacuated the centre of Afrin before Turkish forces arrived, in order to avoid an humanitarian crisis.

“It appears the majority of the population of the city, which is predominantly Kurdish, evacuated under threat of attack from Turkish military forces and Turkish backed opposition forces” read the U.S. statement.

The Department of State also noted that the displacement of the population in Afrin has exacerbated an already-concerning humanitarian situation in the area.

The United States was also concerned over reports regarding FSA members’ looting inside Afrin yesterday.

The fighting in western Syria over the last two months, including in Afrin, has distracted from the Defeat ISIS campaign and provided opportunity for ISIS to begin reconstituting in some areas. This is a serious and growing concern. We call on all actors in Syria to remain focused on this significant threat from ISIS.

“The United States calls on all relevant actors operating in the northwest, including Turkey, Russia, and the Syrian Regime, to provide access for international humanitarian organizations, facilitate the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance to those displaced by the violence, and develop a coordinated program for the safe and voluntary return of people to their homes in Afrin City as soon as possible,” the statement reads. 

The statement notes that the United States remains committed to the implementation of the United Nations Security Council’s decision for ending hostilities in Syria. Washington also underlined that it does not operate in northwest Syria, and remains committed to both its NATO ally Turkey and its majority-Kurdish allies from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in eastern Syria, an important part of the coalition to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS), which is also tied to the Kurdish groups Turkey has been fighting in Afrin. 

Calling all actors to focus on the threat from ISIS, the United States expressed its concern that Turkey’s military campaigns in northwest Syria had distracted the struggle against the extremist jihadist group, which it said had used this opportunity to reconstitute itself. 

U.S.-Turkish relations have been strained since the beginning of Turkey’s military offense in Afrin. The United States is cooperating with Syrian Kurdish forces in the north-east of the country in its struggle against ISIS, while Turkey views those forces as an arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the outlawed group that has been fighting within Turkey for more than three decades.