US Defense Secretary Mattis admits some YPG militants are shifting to Afrin
WASHINGTON - Anadolu Agency
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis on Feb. 11 acknowledged that some members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – the U.S.-backed militant group dominated by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) – had shifted to the Afrin district amid Turkey’s ongoing military operation there, state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Feb. 12.
“The distraction of what’s going on up in Afrin right now is drawing off some of the [SDF] forces,” Mattis told reporters during his flight to Europe.
He said the YPG believes “its fellow Kurds” in Afrin to be under attack, referring to Turkey’s ongoing “Operation Olive Branch,” launched on Jan. 20.
The U.S. has long supported the SDF as a reliable ally in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), over the persistent objections of Ankara. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group for its links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Mattis also reiterated that Ankara has “real security concerns in the region,” describing Turkey as the only NATO ally currently facing an active insurgency.
“They [Turkey] have legitimate security concerns, and we do not dismiss one bit of that, along that border with Syria,” he stated, adding that Washington will “continue to work closely with Turkey.”
The Pentagon had previously stated that “some SDF elements” were shifting but did not specify where they were headed.
Mattis is expected to meet his Turkish counterpart Nurettin Canikli in Brussels this week.