By Safvan Allahverdi
WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. is in talks with Turkey about Manbij, Syria, but it is not the right time to discuss it publicly, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Friday.
"I am not going to discuss [it] right now," Mattis told reporters at a news conference. "It is simply not the right time to do this in the public square."
Mattis was referring to Turkey’s plan to launch a military operation in the strategically important northern city as part of Operation Olive Branch.
Manbij lies northeast of Aleppo but just south of the Turkish border.
Washington has voiced concern about the safety of U.S. troops in Manbij amid Turkey's ongoing operation in northeastern Syria. There are about 2,000 American soldiers in Manbij.
Describing Turkey's ongoing military operation in Afrin as a "distraction" from the fight against Daesh, Mattis said speaking about Manbij publicly “could make the situation more difficult, in terms of domestic audiences that have got to deal with their [countries’] own understandable positions.
"It’s how do you balance the competing interests. I can just tell you it’s an active discussion right now with our ally, Turkey,” he added.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to clear PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin.
Amid the operation, the PYD/PKK has targeted civilians in cross-border attacks on Turkish neighborhoods, martyring at least five people and injuring more than 100 through mortar shells, artillery and missiles, according to Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
In addition to border security, the Turkish General Staff says Operation Olive Branch is meant to protect Syrians from terrorist oppression and cruelty.
Following the Afrin operation, Turkey plans to clear Manbij and some other areas from PYD/PKK terrorists.
The U.S. supports the PYD/PKK, which is considered by Ankara 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.
The PYD/PKK is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU.
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 from Turkey.