London (AFP) – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday he was “concerned” about Turkey’s new offensive against Kurdish militia in northern Syria, as he urged all sides to show restraint in the conflict.
Tillerson was speaking in London as Turkey intensified its assault on Kurdish militia targets in Syria, aiming to oust the People’s Protection Units (YPG) which Washington relies on to fight the jihadist Islamic State group.
“The US is in Syria to defeat ISIS,” he said, using another acronym to for IS, as he began a meeting with his British counterpart Boris Johnson.
“We’ve done that with a coalition of partners and the (Kurdish-led) Syrian Democratic Forces, so we are concerned about the Turkish incidents in northern Syria,” Tillerson added.
Turkish warplanes and artillery are backing a major ground offensive launched on Saturday in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, aiming to oust the YPG which Turkey considers a terror group.
Ankara views the militia as the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a bloody three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.
The top US diplomat said he was asking “both sides to show restraint” and minimise civilian casualties.
“We recognise and fully appreciate Turkey’s legitimate right to protect its own citizens from terrorist elements that may be launching attacks against Turkish citizens on Turkish soil from Syria,” he said.
Tillerson said he was in talks with Ankara and the leadership of the US-led coalition in Syria and hoped to “address Turkish legitimate security concerns”.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday said Turkey remained “determined” to continue its offensive in Afrin and would “take no step back”.
Britain’s Johnson described the state of play as “a very very difficult situation”.
“We understand that the Kurds have been instrumental in taking the fight to Daesh and everybody appreciates that,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
“On the other hand, Turkey does have a legitimate interest in protecting its own border,” Johnson added.