By Kasim Ileri
WASHINGTON (AA) – The Pentagon said on Thursday that there was no crisis between Turkey and the U.S. amid the Turkish Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, Syria.
“We're not in a crisis, we're -- Turkey is an ally, and we're going to work with them,” the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson Dana White told reporters.
“But this current -- this current issue, […], is a distraction. And we have to focus as allies and -- on the mission at hand, and that's defeating ISIS,” said White using a different acronym for terrorist group Daesh.
On the question about possible safe zones along the Syrian border, White said that Turkey has “legitimate security concerns”.
“We're going to continue to engage with them,” she added.
Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, who was also with White during the briefing, said: “Clearly we continue to talk to Turks about the possibility of a secure zone, whatever you want to call it. We've looked at that for a couple of years in various different iterations, and -- and no final decision on it yet.”
McKenzie added that the Turkish operation in Afrin would make it “hard to focus on why we are in Syria, which is the defeat of ISIS.”
He echoed White’s comments saying, “Turkey has a legitimate national security interest and they are very close to the problem.”
He added: “We haven't trained or provided equipment for any of the Kurds that are in the Afrin pocket. You know we tend to -- we're focused on the Euphrates River Valley, operations to the south and to the east.”
The U.S. has supported the PYD/PKK -- considered by Ankara as the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror organization that has waged a more than 30-year war against the Turkish state. The terror campaign has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.
American support for the terror group has long vexed Ankara as Washington views the PYD/PKK-led umbrella group SDF as a "reliable partner" in its fight against Daesh and continues to provide it with arms and equipment in the face of strong objections by Turkey.
On Saturday, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin, northwestern Syria.
According to the military, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkish borders and the region as well as 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 has also said it is putting "utmost importance" on not harming any civilians.
Afrin has been a major hideout for the PYD/PKK since July 2012, when the Assad regime in Syria left the city to the terror group without putting up a fight.