US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert on Tuesday called on Turkey to de-escalate the situation in northern Syria’s Afrin region, where four days ago the Turkish military launched an offensive against Kurdish-held positions, urging a decrease in violence on the ground.
“We call on Turkey to de-escalate the situation [in Afrin], not an increase, but a decrease in violence,” Nauert said.
Responding to a reporter’s question about whether US calls to Turkey for restraint in Afrin had been heeded, Nauert said, “We are really very concerned about that.”
Afrin up until now has been relatively stable, she said, adding that “we call on all parties to remain focused” on the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). If resources are diverted to a battle with the Kurds, she said, then eyes are being taken off defeating ISIS.
Turkey is an important NATO ally, according to Nauert, and the US fully understands Turkey’s concerns about different terrorist organizations and about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkey on Saturday launched Operation Olive Branch in Afrin against People’s Protection Units (YPG) positions, a component of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), considered by authorities in Ankara to be an extension of the outlawed PKK, which has waged a decades-long war against the Turkish state.
The Turkish Armed Forces seeks to establish a 30-kilometer-deep safe zone in Afrin during the operation in which two Turkish soldiers have died in four days of fighting.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in Paris on Tuesday, Nauert said, adding that the details of the talks were not yet available.
Tillerson told reporters on his plane on Monday that “… we’re in discussions with the Turks and some of the forces on the ground as well as to how we can stabilize this situation and meet Turkey’s legitimate concerns for their security,” saying the US would try to work with Turkey to create the kind of security zone Turkey might need.