US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has urged Turkey to refocus its military efforts in Syria to focus on fighting Daesh and not the Kurdish militias it is currently tackling, the Pentagon said yesterday.
Mattis spoke with his Turkish counterpart Nurettin Cenikli on the sidelines of a NATO conference in Brussels on Wednesday.
During their discussion, Mattis called “for a renewed focus on the campaign to defeat ISIS [Daesh], and to preventing any vestige of the terrorist organisation from reconstituting in Syria,” according to the statement.
“Mattis acknowledged the legitimate threats posed to Turkey’s national security by terrorist organisations,” the statement continues, but he “also discussed the complex security environment in Syria, and the danger that a resurgent ISIS could pose to all NATO allies.”
Since mid-January, Turkey has been carrying out a military counter-terrorism operation in northern Syria’s Afrin Province. “Operation Olive Branch” aims to defeat the Kurdish militant groups such as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which the US supports and arms.
The conflict and the subsequent Turkish operation have caused significant friction between the two countries, as Turkey blames the US for supporting a group it classes as terrorists while the US blames Turkey for attacking its allies.
The Pentagon statement concluded by saying that the US and Turkey “agreed to continue their full range of bilateral and multilateral defence activities and consultations, and to look for ways to further strengthen defence cooperation in the future.”
Today, Mattis said the two countries are having an open dialogue about their growing differences over the fight in Syria, and are “finding common ground”.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due to visit Turkey today to meet his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an effort to mend ties.