US calls for Turkey, YPG to ease tension in northern Syria
Still image from Mark Toner's press conference on Feb. 16, 2016.
The United States has called for Turkey and the military wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD), the People’s Protection Units (YPG), to ease increasing tension in northern Syria by abandoning their current actions in the region.
“The YPG needs to stop its own actions on the ground that we believe raises tensions. But we would also urge Turkey to, as I said, cease firing artillery across the border,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Feb. 16 during a daily press briefing. “We just think it escalates tensions in the region.”
Turkey has been shelling YPG targets in the Azez town of northern Syria since Feb. 13, after the group seized the Menagh air base north of Aleppo. Turkey regards the YPG as a terrorist organization, as it sees it as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), with which Turkey has been in armed clashes since the mid-1980s.
Toner reiterated U.S.’ previous statements that it saw the PYD and YPG as an effective partner in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria.
“We do view them as an effective fighting force, but we’ve also been clear that we don’t want to see them take actions or hold territory that is going to create tensions either with Turkey or with other groups in that area,” Toner said, adding that the U.S. considered YPG’s actions in the region to be “counterproductive to the overall effort to defeat ISIL.”
Commenting on whether escalation in the region would make NATO confront Syria and Russia, Toner said that despite Turkey being a member of the alliance, he did not see such an incident happening.
“There’s no cause that we see, of any concern, that NATO would somehow become involved,” said Toner, adding that the situation was very complex and volatile in northern Syria at the moment.
Meanwhile, the Syrian U.N. envoy Bashar Ja’afari said Feb. 16 that the PYD enjoys the support of not only the U.S. but also Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
“These Syrian Kurds supported by the American administration are also supported by the Syrian government, just for your kind information,” Ja’afari told reporters following a closed-door Security Council meeting on Turkey’s recent shelling of PYD targets in northern Syria, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
The session, in which no action was taken, was held at the request of Russia.
“The victory achieved in the northern part of Syria, both by the Syrian army and the Syrian Kurds, is a joint victory for all the Syrians. Everybody is benefiting from the Syrian army’s direct support,” Ja’afari said.
No ground operation plans in Syria
Toner has also ruled out all plans to launch a ground operation in Syria, one day after a senior Turkish official said Turkey had asked its allies for ground troops to be sent to Syria.
“There’s no plans to put ground troops, at least on the part of the U.S., into Syria.,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Feb. 16 during a daily press briefing.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported a Turkish official as saying, “We are [telling] coalition partners that there should be a ground operation. We are discussing this with allies,” at a press briefing in Istanbul on Feb. 16.
“There is not going to be a unilateral military operation from Turkey in Syria,” the official said, according to Agence France-Presse, while adding, “Without a ground operation, it is impossible to stop the fighting in Syria.”
Toner said the U.S. saw no signs that Turkey was preparing for a ground invasion of northern Syria.
“We’ve not seen any evidence of Turkey’s preparing any kind of ground offensive,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner during a daily press briefing.
He stressed, however, that the aim of the U.S.-led anti- ISIL coalition, of which Turkey is a member, remains on training and equipping local forces while supporting those groups with airstrikes.
“We’ve been very clear [about] our intent within the coalition; our focus remains on equipping and training but also supporting with airstrikes and other assistance the groups who are already fighting effectively on the ground in northern Syria. We’re not going to significantly change our footprint,” Toner said.