Turkey blasts US statement on Afrin operation
ANKARA – Anadolu Agency
Turkey has slammed comments from senior U.S. officials that its military operation into Afrin helped the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to rebuild in parts of Syria, accusing its NATO ally of “not fully understanding” the objectives of the operation.
“The latest statement reveals that the U.S. still cannot or does not want to comprehend the reason, purpose and nature of Operation Olive Branch,” Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Bekir Bozdağ said through his Twitter account on March 20.
He rejected the U.S. claims that the Turkey’s operation against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the northern Syrian district of Afrin negatively affected the ongoing struggle against ISIL, describing the accusations as “groundless and false."
His remarks came after statements by U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert and Pentagon spokesman Rob Manning over the implications of the Afrin operation on the anti-ISIL fight.
“We are very concerned about the effect fighting there has had on our defeat ISIS efforts and would like to see an end to the hostilities before [ISIL] has the opportunity to regroup in eastern Syria,” said Manning late on March 19.
The State Department went a step farther, saying ISIL has already begun to rebuild in places.
“The fighting in western Syria over the last two months, including in Afrin, has distracted from the defeat ISIL campaign and provided opportunity for ISIL to begin reconstituting in some areas,” Nauert said in a statement on late March 19.
“This adds to the already concerning humanitarian situation in the area, with United Nations agencies reporting a displaced population in or from the Afrin district in the hundreds of thousands, who now require immediate shelter and other assistance to meet basic needs,” her statement said.
“We are also concerned over reports of looting inside the city of Afrin. We have repeatedly expressed our serious concern to Turkish officials regarding the situation in Afrin,” it added.
Bozdağ’s reply did not cite the looting reports but stressed that “civilians were unharmed.”
“Access to water, medicine, food and other needs were not prevented in Afrin during ‘Operation Olive Branch,’” he said.
Another response to U.S. officials came from Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy, who stressed that the operation is a “counter-terrorism operation” that “in no way targets civilians.”
“On the contrary, it aims to rescue the civilian population from the oppression and tyranny of a terrorist organization. Moreover, all precautions have been taken to avoid harming civilians and the civilian population has been provided with access to humanitarian aid,” Aksoy said.
“The claim that the operation conducted against terrorists in Afrin would endanger the combat against DEASH is completely groundless,” he added.
“The approach that actually undermines the combat against terrorism in Syria is the use of one terrorist organization against another and allowing this particular terrorist organization to create fait accomplis on the ground by pushing forward its separatist agenda and to make demographic changes,” he said.
Ties between Turkey and the U.S. have been strained over Washington’s continued partnership with the YPG, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization.