U.S. says Turkish battles in Afrin hurt fight against ISIS

Turkey’s military operations against Kurdish forces in the northern Syria enclave of Afrin are hindering the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said on Thursday.

“What is going on in Afrin is taking away from the fight against ISIS,” Nauert said. “It is a distraction, as (U.S. Defense) Secretary (Norman) Mattis had called it.  It is certainly not helpful to have people take their eye off the ball of ISIS.”

Turkish troops and their militia allies entered northern Syria last month and are laying siege to Afrin, the main town of the enclave, attempting to dislodge forces of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Much to the anger of Turkey, the U.S. military has backed YPG forces who have been some of the most effective fighters against ISIS in north eastern Syria but America is not actively helping the YPG units in Afrin itself.

Turkey considers the YPG to be indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged a three decades long war for autonomy for predominantly Kurdish-populated south east of turkey  

Nauert said that some of the forces the U.S. has been backing in northeast Syria had gone to Afrin.

“They have familial relations, familial ties there; perhaps that’s part of the reason why,” Nauert said. "That again becomes a distraction, because we can longer fight ISIS the way that we would fully like to be able to do that when we do have that type of distraction.”

Nauert also noted that there were no details to reveal regarding a planned U.S.-Turkey working group announced last week after meetings in Ankara between State Department Secretary Rex Tillerson and his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. The working group was expected to meet by mid-March.