Manbij operation having real success due to cooperation with Turkey: Blinken
Büşra Arslantaş - ANKARAU.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the Manbij operation, which is being carried out in Syria with the support of the international coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadist group, was having real success due to cooperation with Turkey.
“In fact, we are working together in Manbij and this is a very important operation. There is a piece of the border between Turkey and Syria that has been under the control of Daesh [ISIL]. And that Daesh has used it to get foreign fighters coming into Syria, to replenish its supply of fighters, but also to send fighters, terrorists out of Syria once they’ve been trained to attack in Turkey, to attack in Europe, to attack in the United States. Together, we came up with an operation to try to close that border, both from the west moving west to east and also from the east and the south moving up north and west. That operation is having real success and it’s a result of coordination, cooperation between the United States and Turkey,” Blinken said in an interview with private broadcaster CNN Türk during his day-long visit to the Turkish capital Ankara on June 17.
However, on the U.S. cooperation with the People’s Defense Units (YPG), the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) militia forces regarded as an off-shoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) by Turkey, Blinken said the U.S. was working with a number of groups that had a shared interest in defeating ISIL while also sharing Turkey’s concerns about the PKK.
“We have a strong shared interest, as I said, in defeating Daesh, and in Syria we’re working with a variety of groups that share that interest. And we are trying to be as effective as we can be in eliminating the threat posed by Daesh. We’re also extremely sensitive to Turkey’s concerns about the PKK, and indeed, we are supporting Turkey’s efforts and, in particular, we have repeatedly called on the PKK to cease its acts of terrorism, to lay down its arms, to return to the negotiating table that, unfortunately, it made the decision to leave. So, we’ve been acting in solidarity with Turkey when it comes to the PKK,” Blinken said.
In addition, he stressed that the U.S. would not support any group taking advantage of the situation in Syria for their own political interests, saying the aim was a unified Syria with its own unified national sovereignty.
The deputy secretary of state also added that the challenges were to defeat ISIL and set conditions for a political transition apart from the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after the Manbij operation, saying that both the U.S. and Turkey had to work on those challenges.
Blinken also said ISIL was losing ground, noting that almost 50 percent territory held by ISIL a year ago in Iraq has been retaken, while the figures were 20 percent in Syria.
He said that individuals were attached to the jihadist group as they thought it was successful, adding that the number of those who committed acts of terrorism would decrease as the fight against terrorism progressed.
“In the United States, in Turkey, in other places we are making very, very good progress, overall, against terrorism. But, we also have to be honest – when a single individual is prepared to give his or her own life to kill other people, no country can be perfectly effective against that. But, there has to be a recognition rolling around the world that people who commit such acts are not martyrs, they are murderers. And it is the obligation of our governments to provide for the security of our people, that’s what we are working together to do,” Blinken said.
When asked about Turkish security forces’ ongoing operations against PKK militants in the country’s southeastern provinces, Blinken said the U.S. had been clear on calling on the PKK to lay down arms and return to the peace process.
“The first obligation of any government is to protect the security of its people, and the PKK, in committing acts of terrorism and violence, has threatened the security of the Turkish people throughout the country. And so, we have been extremely clear in calling upon the PKK to stop the violence, to stop the terrorism, to put down its weapons, and to return to the process that was in place thanks to the visionary leadership of President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan in trying to find a solution at the negotiating table. Unfortunately, the PKK made the profoundly misguided decision to leave that process and to return to violence,” Blinken said.
Blinken also commented on the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey, calling it “incredibly broad and deep,” as both countries had common concerns and were working together to solve many different issues.
However, he noted there could also be differences in relationships.
“I’m sure there are times when Turkey is disappointed in the United States; there are times when the United States is disappointed in Turkey. But at the foundation is a partnership, a friendship and an alliance that we feel very strongly about,” Blinken said.
Accordingly, the deputy secretary of state named the biggest difference between the two countries as concerns about freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Turkey.
“The foundation of a strong democracy like Turkey is respect for these basic rights, and when we see people who are arrested or prosecuted simply for giving expression to their views, that’s a problem,” Blinken said, urging the government to not lose sight of strengthening its democracy despite challenges.
Blinken also noted the U.S. support for the efforts to normalize relations between Turkey and Israel, expressing the country’s hope that those efforts would ultimately be productive.
“We strongly support the efforts of both Turkey and Israel to work to normalize relations. Both countries are close, strong friends, with the United States, and it’s obviously in our interest when our friends are also getting along. But there are also some of the common challenges that would benefit from a strong relationship between Israel and Turkey. So, we encourage that effort, but this was not part of my trip. But our hope is the efforts that are being made by both countries to restore relations will bear fruit,” he said.
Meanwhile, commenting on the controversial presidential system shift debates in the country, Blinken said it was up to the Turkish people to decide on the issue.
“That’s a decision for the Turkish people to make and it’s not one for us – not for us to say. We appreciate our own system and it works well for us. But every country has to make its own decision and it’s really up to the Turkish people,” Blinken said.