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Turkey’s Assault on Kurdish Fighters Concerns United States, Officials Say

As Turkey continues its attack on Kurdish forces along the Syrian border town of Afrin, the Defense Department says the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is the common threat in the region, chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White told reporters today.

Published reports say Turkey launched the Afrin military operation Jan. 20.

“[We] are working very closely with Turkey,” White said. “They are a NATO ally, and they have legitimate security concerns, so we’re going to continue to engage with them. It’s very important for all parties to remember that the common threat is ISIS, and we need all parties to focus on that mission.”

Inducing Friction

“Turkish operations in Ephraim and all operations in Ephraim that have the effect of inducing friction into the equation, of making it hard to focus on why we’re in Syria — which is the defeat of ISIS in the Euphrates River valley — are a negative thing,” Joint Staff Director Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. said.

“[We] also recognize Turkey has a legitimate national security interest and they’re very close to the problem. They’re the only NATO ally that actually has an active insurgency operating on their territory, so we understand all of those things,” the general said.

McKenzie emphasized that the United States has not trained or provided equipment for any of the Kurds in the Ephraim pocket, adding, “We’re focused on the Euphrates River valley operations to the south and to the east.”

The United States is trying hard to accommodate Turkey’s national security interests with the reasons why the U.S. military is in Syria, the general said.

Continuing Discussions

“And we think to a large degree, there’s overlap,” he added. “There [are] certainly areas that we disagree with, but we think we have an opportunity to perhaps come together and those discussions are continuing.”

The situation between Turkey and Kurdish fighters is a “distraction,” White said. “We have to focus as allies on the mission at hand,” she added, “and that’s defeating ISIS.”

The United States is helping Turkey with its active insurgency, she said. “We’re talking to them about those security concerns. We take them very seriously.”

But again noting that the common threat is ISIS, she said, the job is not done. “[We] need to get everyone focused on that,” she added. “And we will continue to talk to Turkey. We ask that Turkey de-escalate. But again, the focus, the priority for us, is to defeat ISIS.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)