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US tells Turkey to 'exercise restraint' in Syria

January 21, 2018

The US State Department has called on Turkey to limit the "scope and duration" of an anti-Kurdish operation in Afrin. Russia has backed the operation with aerial support, according to a Turkey-backed rebel commander.

A Turkish soldier stands on a tank near the Syrian border
Image: picture alliance/abaca/C. Genco

The US on Sunday called on its military ally Turkey to "exercise restraint" and limit the scope of its latest offensive in Syria aimed at uprooting the Peoples' Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia, on its southern border.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke with his Turkish and Russian counterparts on the phone, warning them against an escalation in northern Syria.

Read more: The Middle East's complex Kurdish landscape

"We urge Turkey to exercise restraint and ensure that its military operations remain limited in scope and duration and scrupulous to avoid civilian casualties," said Nauert.

Over the weekend, Turkey launched a major offensive – dubbed operation "Olive Branch" – in the Syrian enclave of Afrin. Kurdish forces gained control over the city of Afrin after Syrian troops fled their posts in 2012 during clashes with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

France: 'Must stop' fighting

Ankara's decision to launch the operation has pushed US-Turkey relations to new lows and forced other nations to urge an immediate end to the offensive.

"This fighting ... must stop," French Defense Minister Florence Parly told France 3 Television on Sunday, adding that the new conflict could "deter Kurdish forces who are at the side" of the international coalition battling the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group in Iraq and Syria.

Read more: Turkey-US relations 'entering a risky period'

France also called for United Nations action to help minimize the "humanitarian risks" as the fighting escalates in Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu later told reporters that he was disappointed by the French government's comments, and that he expected France to stand by an ally country, not with a "terror organization." If France does "not act like ally... then it would be treated as a country that sides with terrorists," Cavusoglu said.

A Turkey-backed rebel commander said Russia has backed the operation with aerial support, despite being on opposing sides of the Syrian conflict
A Turkey-backed rebel commander said Russia has backed the operation with aerial support, despite being on opposing sides of the Syrian conflictImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Tass/Russian Defence Ministry Press and Information Office/O. Balashova

'With the help of Russian air force'

Roughly 25,000 FSA militants have joined Turkey's offensive against Kurdish forces in Afrin, according to a rebel commander.

"The task of the FSA is first to regain sixteen Arab towns and villages occupied by the foreign militias with the help of the Russian air force," FSA commander Yasser Abdul Rahim told Reuters news agency.

Read more: As Syrian war nears end, some can never go home

Turkey's latest offensive against Kurdish forces is expected to complicate attempts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria, said Russian lawmaker and defense committee chairman Vladimir Shamanov, according to the state-owned TASS news agency.

"This will introduce certain complications for the start of the inter-Syrian dialogue in Sochi," Shamanov said.

ls,nm/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP)