By Fatih Hafiz Mehmet
The U.S. defense secretary said Turkey was a front-line state for NATO and its legitimate interests needed to be addressed, referring to recent talks between both countries regarding Syria's northern Manbij.
Speaking to reporters during his flight to Brussels, James Mattis said talks had taken place between U.S. secretary of state and the Turkish minister of foreign affairs in Washington D.C.
The Manbij roadmap was announced after a meeting in Washington on Monday between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The deal focuses on the withdrawal of the PKK-affiliated YPG terror group from the northern Syrian city and on stability in the region.
"We are working out, how do we take -- again, Turkey, a NATO ally -- how do we take Turkey's legitimate security interests and enhance their security? They are the only NATO nation with an active insurgency inside its borders," said Mattis, according to a transcript made available by the Department of Defense.
"They're the front-line state for NATO [...] -- on the front line of this disaster that [Bashar al-]Assad has visited upon his people in Syria, with the Iranians' help, the Russians' help. And we have got to find a way to work Turkey's legitimate interests," he stressed.
Mattis said the SDF were the only organization at the time able to thwart and defeat Daesh in "very, very tough fighting".
"And we will not simply cast that organization aside, because it is critical to stopping -- to defeating the ISIS [Daesh] caliphate now, which we've still not defeated. It is critical to destroying the physical caliphate that -- the operations that are going right now. And it's critical to preventing the rise of ISIS 2.0."
'Complex battle space'
Mattis added it was the "most complex battle space" he had ever seen.
"We are working with Turkey for how we work this issue, and we will continue to work it forward," he said.
"There's no doubt that we are working with Turkey to try and address their concerns -- at the same time, defeat ISIS. And it's a very difficult job, I'll be the first to admit. But we're doing it. We're working it, and we're ranking it with Turkey, not against Turkey," Mattis added.
Turkey has long criticized the U.S. for supporting the YPG/PKK terror group under the name of SDF, which is considered by Ankara as the Syrian offshoot of PKK.
PKK has waged a more than 30-year terror campaign against the Turkish state that has resulted in some 40,000 deaths.
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.
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