By Michael Hernandez
The U.S. said Tuesday that it sees no signs that Turkey is preparing for a ground invasion of northern Syria.
“We've not seen any evidence of Turkey's preparing any kind of ground offensive,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
He stressed, however, that the aim of the U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition, to which Turkey is a member, remains on training and equipping local forces while supporting those groups with airstrikes.
Russia has warned that Turkey is amassing ground forces along its southern border in preparation for a ground offensive into northern Syria. The region has recently seen Syrian government and Kurdish advances assisted by Russian airpower.
Most recently, Syrian forces have seized cities surrounding Aleppo as Kurdish Syrian fighters have captured strategic towns to the north, including Azaz, located just 6 kilometers (4 miles) from the Turkish border, drawing Ankara’s ire.
Turkey has bombarded the district for four straight days, urging the fighters to withdraw.
Ankara views the YPG Kurdish forces as an extension of the outlawed PKK. But Washington has remained steadfast in its support for the group, calling it an effective and reliable partner in the fight against Daesh.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Western powers to designate the fighters and their political wing, the PYD, as terrorist groups.
“Both the PYD and the YPG are the organizations of the Assad regime,” he said and the West should “understand that there is no difference between the PYD, PKK, Daesh or DHKP-C.”
The PKK has targeted Turkish security forces and civilians since 1984.
It resumed its 30-year armed campaign against the Turkish state in July.
Seeking to tamper down concerns about the possibility that NATO could somehow become involved in Syria’s conflict, Toner said that “there’s no cause that we see of any concern” that could lead to the transatlantic alliance’s involvement.
Still, he stressed that the situation in northern Syria is “very complex, very volatile”.
“Continued regime offensive in and around Aleppo, backed by Russian airstrikes, a variety of different groups of competing interest fighting on the ground - we don't need to add to that mix,” he said.