KUWAIT CITY: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged allies on Tuesday to stay focused on fighting the militant Islamic State (IS) group, saying Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria had “detracted” from the anti-IS battle.
Tillerson spoke at a ministerial meeting in Kuwait of the US-led military coalition that has been fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, being held in parallel with a conference on reconstruction in Iraq.
The militant group has lost much of the territory it once controlled when it seized large swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014.
“The end of major combat operations does not mean we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS,” Tillerson said, using another acronym for IS.
“ISIS remains a serious threat to the stability of the region, our homelands and other parts of the globe,” he said.
Iraq declared victory over IS in December, but the extremist group still has a presence in Syria, where the US-led coalition has backed a Kurdish-Arab alliance fighting the militants.
And Iraqi government forces backed by a US-led coalition last week staged a major operation against “IS remnants” in the north-east.
The US-backed campaign against IS in Syria has been complicated since Turkey-backed Arab militia last month began an offensive against Kurdish forces in the north-western region of Afrin.
The Turkish operation “has detracted from our fight to defeat IS in eastern Syria”, Tillerson said of ongoing offensives by US-backed Kurdish militia to clear remaining pockets of extremists. “Forces have diverted from there to Afrin,” he said.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have been a key component of the US-backed alliance fighting IS, but Washington’s Nato ally Turkey says they are a “terrorist” offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“We remain concerned over recent events in north-west Syria and call on all parties to remain focused on defeating ISIS,” Tillerson said.
“We will continue to be completely transparent with Turkey about our efforts in Syria to defeat ISIS,” he added, giving a nod to Turkey’s right to “counterterrorism efforts” on its border.
Tillerson said the United States would nonetheless maintain an “ISIS-focused military presence in Syria” and “continue to train local security forces” — a reference to Washington’s contentious Kurdish allies.
Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2018