United States “monitoring the situation very closely” in Afrin
The US is monitoring the situation very closely in the Afrin city of Northern Syria, the US State Department said in a press briefing on Monday, as the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) continues to reshape the delicate power balance in the region.
“The ability of extremist groups, of terrorist groups to use Syrian territory to form a base, to plot, that is of concern to all of us. We have a range of tools and we’ll continue to calibrate those tools appropriately,” said Ned Price, the spokesperson for the State Department.
In a meeting on Friday with the Turkish officials near Afrin, the US side threatened to allow Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the city should the HTS stay in Afrin, according to a report published by Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“This consequently angered the Turks and helped to balance out the situation,” the report said.
As a result of the meeting, Turkish forces deployed around Afrin and created a buffer zone between HTS and some factions from the Syrian National Army, which fought a fierce battle leaving 60 dead.
HTS withdrew from the city center but left behind their allies within the SNA, sources said and continue to exert influence through these forces.
Turkish police also detained nine HTS suspects on Monday in the capital Ankara in an extensive operation, the police said and search was underway for two more suspects.
HTS, a jihadist group that is the dominant power in Syria's Idlib Governorate, was the main affiliate of al-Qaeda in Syria until 2018 and is designated a terrorist organization by the United States.
HTS' seizure of Afrin, which was mostly Kurdish until the Turkish incursion in 2018, coincided with Turkey’s moves to establish diplomatic relations with the Syrian regime.