US Defense Secretary James Mattis describes meeting between US and Turkish officials during NATO defence ministers summit as "open and honest" that enables working co-operatively.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis poses with Turkish Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 14, 2018.
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis poses with Turkish Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 14, 2018. (Reuters)

Turkey said on Thursday it had demanded that the United States expel the YPG from the ground forces it backs in Syria (Syrian Democratic Forces-SDF) underscoring the widening gulf between the NATO allies since Ankara launched Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syria's Afrin last month.

"We demanded this relationship be ended, I mean we want them to end all the support given to the Syrian arm of PKK, the YPG," Turkish Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli told reporters in a briefing in Brussels, a day after meeting US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on the sidelines of a NATO meeting.

"We demanded this structure be removed from SDF," he said.

Speaking with reporters on the sidelines of the NATO meeting, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said his talks with his Turkish counterpart were open and honest, but acknowledged the differences.

Mattis also said that Washington is finding “common ground” with Ankara on Syria amid a Turkish-led operation in Afrin in northwestern Syria.

Mattis’ remarks came after he met Turkish Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli at the NATO headquarters on Wednesday.

"But throughout this, the one that has marked our communication is absolute honesty and transparency with one another... We continue to collaborate on ways to ensure their legitimate concerns are addressed," Mattis added.

Calling the talks with his Turkish counterpart Canikli “absolutely open and honest,” he said that the two countries would continue discussing what they can do together.

The meeting came amid continuing tensions between Ankara and Washington over the US allying itself with the YPG, the Syrian branch of the PKK—which is a designated terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US, and the European Union. It comes as Turkey is targeting the YPG in Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syria, across the Turkish border.

The US has called the YPG a “reliable ally” in its fight against Daesh, despite strong protests by Turkey, which has highlighted the YPG’s continuing threat to both Syria and Turkey’s border regions.

Nearly 100 rockets have been fired at Turkey by the YPG since the beginning of Operation Olive Branch on January 20, killing seven civilians and injuring some 113 people, according to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

Turkey launched the operation to clear the YPG and Daesh from Afrin.

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 oppression and cruelty.

It goes on to say that the operation is being conducted under the framework of Turkey's rights based on international law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defence rights under the UN charter, and respect for Syria's territorial integrity.

The military also said that only terror targets are being destroyed and the "utmost care" is being taken to avoid harming civilians.

Source: AA