[UPDATE] Turkey rebuts US concern over humanitarian situation in Afrin

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U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert (Yasin Ozturk / Anadolu Agency)

The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Monday criticized a press statement issued earlier in the day by the spokesperson for the US Department of State that expressed “serious concern” over the current situation in the northern Syrian city of Afrin, saying the United States has failed to understand that Turkey’s offensive in Afrin is a counterterrorism operation that “in no way” targets civilians, who “have been provided with access to humanitarian aid.”

“The statement made today by the Spokesperson of the US Department of State regarding the situation in Afrin reveals that the US authorities still cannot or unfortunately do not want to comprehend the reason, purpose and nature of Operation Olive Branch. Operation Olive Branch is a counter-terrorism operation. The operation 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,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy in a statement on the ministry’s website.

US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert earlier on Monday said: “The United States is deeply concerned over reports from Afrin City over the last 48 hours. It appears the majority of the population of the city, which is predominantly Kurdish, evacuated under threat of attack from Turkish military forces and Turkish backed opposition forces,” the statement said, and added, “This adds to the already concerning humanitarian situation in the area, with United Nations agencies reporting a displaced population in or from Afrin district in the hundreds of thousands, who now require immediate shelter and other assistance to meet basic needs.”

The Turkish military and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters on Jan. 20 launched Operation Olive Branch in Afrin against the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey sees as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

On Sunday, the Turkish General Staff announced that the Turkish army and FSA forces had taken over control of Afrin town center and also said that only terrorist targets were being destroyed and “utmost care” was being taken to avoid harming any civilians.

However, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the PYD, and the Autonomous Administration in Afrin said in a joint statement on Sunday that they had asked civilians to leave in order to avoid atrocities and the “deaths of more civilians” now that the conflict has reached a new stage.

Aksoy also rebutted Nauert’s assertion that the fighting in Afrin has distracted from the US-led campaign to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and said the claim was “completely groundless,” adding that the use of one terrorist organization against another was what was undermining combat against terrorism in Syria.

 

The US military has supported the YPG in the fight to defeat ISIL in Syria.

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