US Defense Secretary Mattis to meet Turkish counterpart Canikli amid Manbij row
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Feb. 9 he will meet with his Turkish counterpart Nurettin Canikli in Brussels next week amid U.S. concern over Turkey’s plans to launch a military operation in Manbij, Syria.
The U.S. will continue to work with Turkey at “the highest levels and all the way down through the military level,” Mattis told reporters during a visit to the Pentagon’s press office.
“We will continue to work with our NATO ally [Turkey], and I will see their minister of defense in Brussels next week,” he added.
Mattis was referring to Turkey’s plan to launch a military operation in Manbij, a strategically important city west of the Euphrates River in northern Syria, as part of “Operation Olive Branch.”
Manbij lies northeast of Aleppo but just south of the Turkish border.
Washington has voiced concern about the safety of U.S. troops in Manbij amid Turkey’s ongoing operation in northeastern Syria.
There are about 2,000 American soldiers in Manbij, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Mattis said there has been no change in terms of Turkey’s pressure on Manbij in response to a question about Turkey’s concern over the presence of the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
“Obviously, there is a lot of concern there because of what we heard out of Ankara. But right now, our goal is to keep the pressure on [through] the counter ISIS campaign and keep the campaign going,” Mattis said, describing Turkey’s planned military operation in Manbij as a “distraction” from the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Describing Turkey as “the only NATO ally with an active insurgency inside its border with the PKK terrorist group,” Mattis said the U.S. is working with Turkey on its legitimate security concerns not just with the PKK but also along the Syrian border, which has been turned into a battlefield by the Bashar al-Assad regime.
“Turkey has legitimate concerns, and the U.S. is working with Ankara. But at the same time, Washington wants to stay on Daesh right now,” he added, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.