US urges Turkey’s Afrin operation to remain limited in scope

US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert

The US urged Turkish government to exercise restraint and ensure that its military operations remain limited in scope and duration, however, said it was “supportive of addressing the legitimate security concerns” of Turkey regarding terrorist groups in Syria’s Afrin, US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement on Sunday.

“As expressed by Secretary Tillerson in calls to his Turkish and Russian counterparts yesterday, the United States is very concerned about the situation in northwest Syria, especially the plight of innocent civilians who are now faced with an escalation in fighting,” Nauert said.

“We continue to be supportive of addressing the legitimate security concerns of Turkey as a NATO Ally and critical partner in the effort to defeat ISIS,” the statement added, using an alternative acronym for ISIL terror group.

The US also called on Turkey to take precautions to limit civilian casualties and focus on “the central goal” of defeating ISIL. “Now is the time for great nations to work together to secure a peaceful stability for the people of Syria,” the statement concluded.

Turkey advised the United States ahead of its air strikes in Syria against US-backed Kurdish militia, and the Washington is in contact with Ankara about the way forward, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Sunday during a flight to Asia.

“Turkey was candid,” Mattis said, without disclosing the US reaction to the Turkey’s notification. “They warned us before they launched the aircraft they were going to do it, in consultation with us. And we are working now on the way ahead. “And we are working now on the way ahead. We’ll work this out.”

The operation pits Turkey against Kurdish militia allied with the United States at a time when ties between Ankara and Washington, NATO allies and members of the coalition against ISIL, appear dangerously close to a breaking point. Turkey has long been outraged at US backing of YPG militia in Syria, which Ankara views an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

“Turkey has legitimate security concerns,” Mattis said, noting it was the only NATO ally with an active insurgency inside its borders. At the same time, Mattis said the US military was deployed in Syria in a way that allowed it to ensure that US-provided weaponry was being used to battle insurgents, not Turkey. That support has allowed the US-led coalition to crush ISIL, he said. “They have proven their effectiveness,” Mattis said. “It has cost them thousands of casualties. But you have watched them, with the coalition support, shred the ISIL caliphate in Syria.”

Mattis said Turkey’s military informed Washington of its air operation in a phone call to high levels of the US military. He said no US forces were currently at risk from the Turkish operations. Asked whether he was concerned about the situation, Mattis said: “We are very alert to it. Our top levels are engaged … And we’re working through it.”

FRANCE, RUSSIA AND GERMANY SHOW REACTIONS

France has also asked Turkey to act with restraint in Syria, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday after speaking by phone with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. “France calls on Turkish authorities to act with restraint in a difficult context, with the humanitarian situation deteriorating in several regions of Syria as a consequence of the military actions of the Damascus regime and its allies,” Le Drian said in a statement.

Le Drian also said that France condemned indiscriminate bombing by the Syrian regime in Idlib province and asked for the immediate access of humanitarian aid to eastern Ghouta, where 400,000 citizens are in a critical situation.

Another statement on Turkey’s Afrin operation came from Germany. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said fighting causes uncalculated concerns. Gabriel also said they are watching the developments in Northern Syria with concern, remarking that armed confrontation between Turkey and Kurdish forces bears unexpected risks. He said the last thing Syria needs is yet another conflict.

On the other hand, “Unilateral actions” by the US in Iran and Syria have infuriated Turkey, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Kommersant newspaper in an interview while Russian lawmaker and defense committee chairman Vladimir Shamanov said that Turkey’s latest offensive against Kurdish groups is expected to complicate attempts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria.

According to a report by state-owned TASS news agency, Shamanov has also said that “This will introduce certain complications for the start of the inter-Syrian dialogue in Sochi.”

The Russian Defense Ministry has also stated that the US is fueling the crisis in northern Syria by “supplying uncontrolled weapons” to the YPG. “The Pentagon’s uncontrolled deliveries of modern weaponry to the pro-US militants in the north of Syria, according to our information, has contributed to the rapid escalation of tensions that has prompted the Turkish special operation,” the ministry said on Saturday.

The Russian Presidency’s Special Envoy for Syria, Alexandr Lavrentyev, has also spoken to Russia’s RIA Novosti, commenting on the US presence in Syria and stated that “Our stance is clear. US military forces cannot stay on a sovereign country’s land upon the administration’s objection.” He also called on the US to attend the Sochi meeting that is planned to be held on Jan. 29-30 as an “observer,” the agency reported on Sunday.

On the other hand, Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Frants Klintseviç stated that “Russia will ask Turkey to end its operation on Afrin at the United Nations.”

In a Facebook post about the invasion attempt, top Russian official Konstantin Kosaçev has also said that “Disturbing news are coming from Syria. The ‘anti-terrorist operation’ announced by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan causes nothing but concern.”

IRAN: STOP DEEPENING OF THE CRISIS IN THE BORDER REGION

Meanwhile, Bahram Ghasemi, the Spokesman of Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also said Iran is closely and concernedly following the current developments in the city of Afrin and  stated that “Iran hopes that the operation will immediately come to an end to stop deepening of the crisis in the border areas of Turkey and Syria.”

According to a report by Iranian Mehr news agency, Ghasemi said that  “The continuation of the crisis in Afrin may further strengthen the takfirist-terrorist groups (ISIL) in the northern Syrian regions, and flare up the fires of war and destruction in this country.”

Seriously underlining the importance of respecting the Syrian territorial integrity and national sovereignty, Ghasemi called for avoiding the murder of innocent people of Syria and worsening of the humanitarian situation. “All countries especially Turkey are expected to remain committed to the political solution, especially Astana peace process, for the Syrian crisis and continue observing their commitments and playing their constructive role in the resolution of the crisis,” asserted Ghasemi.

“It is expected from all the responsible countries of the international community, especially the neighboring countries of Syria, to avoid any action that will cement the illegitimate presence of cross-regional interventionist forces which encourages the terrorist groups, and call upon all of them to continue to focus on the peace process.”

The Foreign Ministry of Egypt has also condemned the Turkish government operation on Afrin, calling it an intervention against and violation of Syrian lands. In a statement about the operation, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry pointed out that Turkey negatively affected the political efforts for the ending of terror in Syria, saying that “The attitude of Egypt towards military methods is clear as attacks against our Syrian brothers and sisters are increasing.”

UN SECURITY COUNCIL TO CONVENE ON MONDAY UPON FRANCE’S CALL

United Nations Security Council will convene on Monday upon France’s call for an emergency meeting over Syria following the launch of Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria’s Afrin province. The French Foreign Ministry on Sunday said the UN Security Council had agreed to hold a session to address Turkey’s attack on the Syrian Kurds in Afrin at France’s request. France had called on Sunday for United Nations action to help minimize the “humanitarian risks” as the fighting escalates in Syria.

“Ghouta, Idlib, Afrin — France asks for an urgent meeting of the Security Council,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on his Twitter feed. He added that he had spoken with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Sunday morning.

“This fighting … must stop,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly told France 3 Television on Sunday, adding that the new conflict could “deter Kurdish forces who are at the side” of the international coalition battling the ISIL militant group in Iraq and Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters that he was disappointed by the French government’s comments, and that he expected France to stand by an ally country, not with a “terror organization.” If France does “not act like ally… then it would be treated as a country that sides with terrorists,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Turkish ground forces pushed into northern Syria’s Afrin province as part of Operation Olive Branch on Sunday after Turkey launched artillery and air strikes on terrorist PKK’s Syrian affiliates the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed-wing People’s Protection Units (YPG), it aims to sweep from its border.

On Saturday, envoys and mission chiefs of permanent members of UN Security Council, United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, were invited to the Turkish foreign ministry for a briefing on Operation Olive Branch.

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