By Nilay Kar Onum
BRUSSELS (AA) – U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Thursday said Washington is finding “common ground” with Ankara on Syria amid a Turkish-led counter-terrorist operation in Afrin, northwestern Syria.
Speaking to reporters after a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels, Mattis said: "I believe we are finding common ground,” adding that there were also areas of “uncommon ground.”
Mattis’ remarks came after he met his Turkish counterpart Nurettin Canikli at NATO headquarters on Wednesday.
Stating that there is chaos along Turkey’s border with Syria -- the site of scores of deadly rocket attacks on Turkish civilians in recent weeks -- he said that NATO and U.S. are trying to address Turkey’s "legitimate security concerns."
Calling the talks with his Turkish counterpart Canikli “absolutely open and honest,” he said that two countries would continue working on what they can do together.
The meeting between the two came amid continuing tension between Ankara and Washington over the U.S. allying itself with the PYD/PKK, the Syrian branch of the terrorist PKK, while Turkey is targeting the same terrorist group in its Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syria, across Turkey’s border.
The U.S. has called the PYD/PKK a “reliable ally” in its fight against Daesh, against strong protests by Turkey, which has highlighted the PYD/PKK’s continuing terrorist threat to both Syrians and Turkey’s border regions.
Nearly 100 rockets have been fired at Turkey by PYD/PKK terrorists since the beginning of Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20, killing seven civilians and injuring some 113, according to Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
Turkey launched the operation to clear PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin, northwestern Syria.
According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as to protect Syrians from terrorist oppression and cruelty.
The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey's rights based on international law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights under the UN charter, and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, it said.
The military also said only terror targets are being destroyed and the "utmost care" is being taken to avoid harming civilians.