ISIS rebuilding as Turkish push into Afrin pulls forces from anti-terror fight, US says

The US warned Monday that ISIS has begun reconstituting in some areas of Syria because a Turkish military offensive a...

Posted: Mar 20, 2018 8:50 AM
Updated: Mar 20, 2018 8:50 AM

The US warned Monday that ISIS has begun reconstituting in some areas of Syria because a Turkish military offensive against a northern city has pulled the US' Kurdish allies away from the fight against the terrorist group.

"We are very concerned about the effect fighting there has had on our defeat ISIS efforts and would like to see an end to the hostilities before ISIS has the opportunity to regroup in eastern Syria," said Pentagon spokesman US Army Col. Rob Manning, discussing the Turkish offensive against Afrin.

The State Department went a step farther, saying that ISIS has already begun to rebuild in places.

"The fighting in western Syria over the last two months, including in Afrin, has distracted from the defeat ISIS campaign and provided opportunity for ISIS to begin reconstituting in some areas," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Monday.

US officials have been warning for weeks that the Turkish military campaign against Kurdish forces in Afrin, launched January 20, could undermine the fight against ISIS, as Kurdish fighters helping the US battle the terrorist group began leaving to help their compatriots there. But the Turks see the US' Kurdish allies as terrorists, and said so as they reacted to Nauert's statement Monday.

"The claim that the operation conducted against terrorists in Afrin would endanger the combat against DAESH is completely groundless," said a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry. "The approach that actually undermines the combat against terrorism in Syria is the use of one terrorist organization against another."

US officials, however, have said efforts against ISIS have definitely slowed.

Manning said that operations against ISIS in the area "have not kept up with the same momentum that they had prior to the events taking place in Afrin and it's not optimal." He added that, "we cannot allow ISIS to gain momentum at this critical point."

The US primarily backs the Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against ISIS, a group that is about 50% Arab and 50% Kurdish; however, much of the group's leadership is Kurdish.

In a January speech laying out the Trump administration's policy on Syria, outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made clear the US will remain in Syria until the group is routed. "The United States will maintain a military presence in Syria focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge," Tillerson said at Stanford University. "The fight against ISIS is not over."

Turkish troops, backed by a group of rebels known as the Free Syrian Army, seized swaths of the Kurdish town on Sunday amid reports of looting, heavy civilian deaths and the reported bombing of a hospital.

"This adds to the already concerning humanitarian situation in the area, with United Nations agencies reporting a displaced population in or from Afrin district in the hundreds of thousands, who now require immediate shelter and other assistance to meet basic needs." Nauert's statement said. "We are also concerned over reports of looting inside the city of Afrin. We have repeatedly expressed our serious concern to Turkish officials regarding the situation in Afrin."

Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Nauert's statement "reveals that the US authorities still cannot or unfortunately do not want to comprehend the reason, purpose and nature of Operation Olive Branch. Operation Olive Branch is a counter-terrorism operation. The operation in no way targets civilians."

More than 150,000 people have been displaced in the last few days from Afrin, according to a senior Kurdish official and a monitoring group.

The Turks' decision to target Afrin was driven by concerns that Syrian Kurdish militias backing the US fight against ISIS could one day help Kurds in Turkey push for independence. While the Kurdish forces have been the most effective fighters on the ground for the US-led coalition against ISIS, Turkey dismisses them as "terrorists" and sees them as a potential existential threat.

"We have conducted this operation basically to clear the Afrin area from PYD/YPG terrorists," Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for the Turkish president, told CNN's Becky Anderson on Monday. "Those who are sincere and consistent in the fight against terrorism should be supporting Turkey in its effort to clear its borders of terrorist elements."

A second source of friction has been Turkey's threats to push into Manbij, a town where US forces train mostly local Arabs, but also some Kurds. Ankara continues to demand the Kurds' removal and US officials have hinted that in response, they have increased troop levels in Manbij to ensure the protection of US personnel there.

"Our commanders on the ground always go through a process of assessing what's going on in the battle space," Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters in Washington on March 15. "I could tell you that we have probably done some repositioning to make sure of our own force protection ... both down south as well up -- as up in Manbij."

Tillerson had traveled to Ankara in February to try to repair frayed US-Turkey ties, ease the crisis in Afrin, and defuse Turkish threats against Manbij by stressing their mission to fight ISIS.

Manning, briefing reporters at the Pentagon, said that, "We've made that very clear that US Forces are in Manbij and again this goes back to the need to focus on the defeat of ISIS. It's been very clear to all parties that US forces are there and we'll take measures to make sure we de-conflict."

Kalin, the Turkish spokesman, said his government had come to an agreement with the US through talks with Tillerson and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to move the Kurdish fighters. "We have agreed on a main framework for the area to be evacuated so the elements will move to the east of the Euphrates" river, he said.

"We have asked the US officials to move them out of Manbij so those areas can be secured by the local people," Kalin said. "We can do it together with the US or other local people can do it in the city."

Kalin also said Washington could choose other partners in its effort to defeat ISIS. "The fight against ISIS can be done with other forces, including non-PKK Kurds," who the Turks don't see as a threat, "Arabs and many other Syrians," Kalin said.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 78632

Reported Deaths: 3113
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion16437734
Lake7952283
Elkhart505191
Allen4161164
St. Joseph376683
Hamilton3033104
Vanderburgh212215
Hendricks1978109
Johnson1819119
Cass18139
Porter141539
Clark135250
Tippecanoe129312
Madison106266
LaPorte96730
Howard94865
Kosciusko87812
Bartholomew86747
Floyd86150
Marshall80523
Monroe78432
Vigo77913
Delaware77752
Dubois72912
Noble71729
Boone71646
Hancock70239
Warrick61230
Jackson6075
Shelby57328
LaGrange57110
Grant53330
Dearborn52828
Morgan50135
Henry46720
Clinton4624
Wayne41010
White38411
Montgomery36721
Harrison36524
Lawrence35927
Decatur35332
Putnam3318
Daviess29620
Scott28110
Miami2792
Jasper2662
Greene25934
Franklin25116
Gibson2464
DeKalb2444
Jennings23312
Ripley2218
Steuben2173
Carroll2135
Fayette2097
Perry18913
Orange18824
Posey1840
Starke1817
Wabash1805
Wells1802
Fulton1752
Jefferson1752
Knox1711
Sullivan1631
Whitley1626
Tipton15516
Washington1531
Clay1505
Spencer1403
Randolph1345
Huntington1303
Adams1242
Newton12110
Owen1131
Rush1004
Jay970
Pulaski841
Brown762
Fountain762
Pike670
Blackford662
Benton640
Ohio636
Vermillion620
Switzerland590
Parke581
Martin530
Crawford500
Union420
Warren251
Unassigned0207

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 106557

Reported Deaths: 3784
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin19287533
Cuyahoga14120523
Hamilton10001262
Lucas5609324
Montgomery4619101
Summit3749225
Butler310569
Marion295645
Mahoning2665259
Pickaway241142
Stark1947142
Warren191440
Lorain188477
Columbiana170461
Trumbull1598112
Fairfield147334
Delaware139219
Licking139053
Clark123516
Lake116343
Wood111558
Clermont100011
Medina98836
Miami89339
Allen84246
Tuscarawas80614
Portage78264
Greene76512
Mercer67613
Richland63512
Belmont62926
Erie62630
Madison58710
Ashtabula58246
Wayne58160
Geauga56445
Ross5285
Darke44230
Sandusky42117
Hancock4153
Huron4145
Ottawa40827
Athens3662
Lawrence3340
Holmes3326
Auglaize2888
Union2801
Muskingum2651
Scioto2651
Seneca2454
Jefferson2403
Shelby2344
Preble2302
Putnam22117
Knox2199
Washington21222
Coshocton1999
Champaign1922
Morrow1882
Hardin18312
Crawford1815
Clinton1806
Logan1742
Highland1712
Perry1693
Fulton1601
Ashland1593
Wyandot1589
Defiance1574
Brown1532
Williams1393
Fayette1270
Henry1252
Hocking1239
Guernsey1217
Carroll1155
Monroe9618
Gallia852
Pike810
Jackson790
Paulding740
Van Wert732
Adams682
Meigs660
Morgan320
Vinton322
Harrison261
Noble190
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 64°
Angola
Overcast
63° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 63°
Huntington
Few Clouds
61° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 61°
Decatur
61° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 61°
Van Wert
61° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 61°
Weekend Storm Chances
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events