LONDON – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday he was concerned by Turkey’s military campaign against Washington-backed militias in northern Syria and urged both warring parties to show restraint, although he acknowledged Turkey’s right to defend its own borders.
At a London press conference, Tillerson offered a diplomatic message that neither condemned nor approved of a Turkish military offensive in northwestern Syria’s Afrin province against Kurdish YPG militias, who are backed by the US-led international coalition in the fight against the Islamic State terror organization but are regarded as a terrorist organization by Turkey.
“The US is in Syria to defeat ISIS and we’ve done that with a coalition of partners and the Syrian Democratic Forces in particular which are composed of Kurdish and Arab but also elements of Christian forces,” Tillerson said, in reference to the SDF umbrella group that most prominently features YPG fighters.
The SDF’s General Command in Afrin earlier released a statement urging the US to step in to show their support for Kurdish fighters in the region.
“So we are concerned about the Turkish incidents in northern Syria. Having said that, in a statement I issued yesterday we recognize and fully appreciate Turkey’s legitimate right to protect its own citizens from terrorist elements that may be launching attacks against Turkish citizens and Turkish soil from Syria,” he went on to say.
Tillerson’s British counterpart, Boris Johnson, shared a similar message on his Twitter page, adding that the United Kingdom was committed to a political solution to Syria that brought an end to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Relations between the US and Turkey, the largest and second largest contributors of personnel to NATO respectively, were at their lowest point in years, party due Washington’s support for the Kurdish militias that control large swathes of northern Syria.
Before Tillerson’s press conference, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan snubbed Washington’s role in the Syrian conflict and, in an apparent rapprochement towards Russia, said the Afrin campaign was being conducted in line with an agreement struck with Russia.
US proposals to create a mainly-Kurdish border force in Syria were met with ire by Turkish authorities and prompted a week of amped-up military rhetoric in Ankara that culminated in a full-blown intervention in Afrin.