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North Atlantic Allies Tense Over Offensive in Afrin

Turkish tanks in a current military campaign against a Kurdish enclave in the northwest Syrian region of Afrin.Turkish tanks in a current military campaign against a Kurdish enclave in the northwest Syrian region of Afrin.

NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller arrived in Ankara Monday on a long-planned visit that was unrelated to Turkey’s current military campaign against a Kurdish enclave in the northwest Syrian region of Afrin. But her trip provoked heightened interest, given that NATO’s two largest armies stand on opposite sides in the operation.

Ankara says it wants to clear the Syrian border enclave of Kurdish YPG fighters. It considers YPG units to be allies of the Kurdish insurgents that have fought against the Turkish state for decades. But the YPG has the backing of the United States, which sees the Kurdish militants as its main allies in Syria against the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group, DW reported.

Gottemoeller was briefed by Turkish officials who assured her, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated publicly, that the Afrin offensive would be “brief.”  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials in Brussels stressed on Monday that Gottemoeller was not in Ankara because of the heightened tensions between Turkey and the US, nor would she be playing any kind of mediation role in the dispute.

But many analysts say the standoff in Afrin is hotter than it looks. The influential Soufan Group, a US-based security intelligence strategy firm, said in its latest brief that the Turkish action is an example of the new coalition between Turkey, Russia and Iran, which are “united in a desire to block US interests in the country.” The US will have to back down or ratchet up the conflict with its NATO ally Ankara, the Soufan Group suggests.

  US Urges Restraint

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged Turkey on Tuesday to show restraint in its offensive against a Kurdish militia in Syria.

“We take very seriously Turkey’s legitimate security concerns and we are committed to work with our NATO allies on those,” Mattis said in Jakarta at the start of an Asian tour, AFP reported.

“We urge Turkey to exercise restraint in the military action and the rhetoric.”

“The violence in Afrin disrupts what was a relatively stable area in Syria and distracts from the international effort to defeat ISIS,” Mattis said Tuesday, using another name for IS.

Echoing that view, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian expressed concern on Tuesday about Turkey’s military offensive and warned the government to show restraint, Reuters reported.

“I had the opportunity to tell my Turkish colleague... that this offensive worries us,” Le Drian told reporters.

“While we understand the concerns Turkey has about border security, we cannot but call on Turkey to show the greatest level restraint on this issue.”

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