When Secretary of Defense James Mattis was questioned about Turkey‘s offensive against the Syrian Kurdish controlled region of Afrin, he responded with, “When rockets come over a border, or insurgents come over a border — and not just in — in this Syria complex situation, but also out of northern Iraq and all — then we are with Turkey 100 percent.” Mattis’s comment comes in light of a recent rocket attack against Turkey, an attack the SDF vehemently denies it was behind. Turkey is currently attacking the U.S. led- coalition backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Syrian Kurdish territory of Afrin.
Secretary of Defense Mattis continued with, “Turkey, number one, is a NATO ally; number two, they’re the only NATO ally that confronts an active insurgency on their own home territory. Number three, it is by a group of PKK, a named terrorist group by the US State Department, and they have murdered innocent Turks,” and, “That is the legitimacy of the Turkish concern.” Clashes between Turkey and the Kurdish PKK, a labeled terrorist group, have been going on since before the Islamic State.
Mattis continued to express his displeasure withe situation in general with, “See, right now, we’re at a point where ISIS is on the ropes, we need to keep the pressure on.” He added, “So this is a distraction in an area that we thought had been relatively quiet, Afrin. Oftentimes when you get up to the level of decision-makers in governments, you don’t get the choice of great decision or bad decision, it — it’s how do you balance the competing interests?”
The Secretary of Defense also expressed concern over Turkey’s actions, attacking the Kurdish territory of Afrin, “Obviously it risks exacerbating the humanitarian crisis that most of Syria is going through,” and, “In the Afrin area, we had actually gotten to the point where humanitarian aid was flowing, refugees were coming back in … the Turkish incursion disrupts that effort.” Mattis claimed the destabilization could create a situation that, “could be exploited by ISIS and Al Qaeda.”
It remains to be seen if the United States will intervene in the conflict between the Turkish military forces and their own proxy force, the SDF. The situation in Afrin has come after the collapse of the Islamic State and the recapture of Raqqa by SDF forces. As of now, Turkey has not been able to breach the Kurdish defenses in Afrin or Manbij through direct attacks or use of their proxy force, the Free Syrian Army (FSA).