By Safvan Allahverdi
WASHINGTON (AA) - U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis late Sunday acknowledged that some of the terrorist PYD/PKK-led SDF elements shifted to Afrin amid Turkey’s ongoing operation against terror groups in Afrin, Syria.
"The distraction of what's going on up in Afrin right now, which is drawing off some of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which have got about 50 percent," Mattis told reporters during his flight to Europe, adding that the percentage could be less or more.
As the reason for the terror group's mobilization to Afrin, he said that Kurds consider that "their fellow Kurds" in Afrin under attack, referring to Turkey's Operation Olive Branch on the northwestern Syrian city to clear PYD/PKK elements there.
Describing Turkey as the only NATO ally with an active insurgency in its order, Mattis also reiterated that Ankara has legitimate security concerns and Washington does not repudiate it.
"They [Turkey] have a legitimate security concern, and we do not dismiss one bit of that, along that border with Syria," he stated, adding that Washington will continue to work closely with Turkey.
The Pentagon had previously stated that some PYD/PKK-led SDF elements were shifting its militants, but did not specify where they were headed.
Mattis is expected to meet with his Turkish counterpart Nurettin Canikli in Brussels this week.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to clear PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin, northwestern Syria.
The operation is carried out against the PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG and Daesh terrorist groups under the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law, UN Security Council’s decisions and self-defense rights under the UN charter.
The U.S. has supported the PKK/PYD under the name of SDF, that is 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.
American support for the terror group has long vexed Ankara as Washington views the 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.
The PKK has fought a 33-year war against Turkey that has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.