The U.S. State Department said it was working with regional partners to remove Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) from the northern Syrian city of Afrin, expressing concern that HTS could enable its presence in the region.
At a press conference held by U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday evening, he said in response to a question about his current explanation for HTS’s control of Afrin: “I am not in a position to provide a more up-to-date assessment beyond what we have said. We are watching everything closely, but I do not have an updated assessment to present today.”
He added that the instability in Syria, and the ability of “terrorist” groups to use Syrian territory to form a base for them, is a source of concern for his country.
Regarding U.S. efforts to get HTS out of Afrin, Price said: “This is something we’re focusing on while working with our regional partners; we have a set of tools, and we’ll continue to calibrate them appropriately.”
Two days ago, news spread about the withdrawal of HTS from the Afrin area after it entered the area and fought battles against the Syrian National Army’s Third Corps.
However, other reports said that HTS had not withdrawn from Afrin but had established itself under flags belonging to other factions present in the area.
Last week, clashes broke out between HTS and the Sultan Salimah Shah and Hamza Division factions on the one hand, and the Third Corps, led by the Levant Front, on the other.
It resulted in the incursion of HTS into Afrin for days, reaching the gates of Azaz, the largest city in the Euphrates Shield region, and later withdrawing following an agreement whose full details are not yet clear. This happened with Turkish pressure.
The United States has previously expressed concern about the expansion of HTS in northern Syria, against the backdrop of recent events in the region following the assassination of Syrian activist Mohammed Abu Ghannoum.
The U.S. Embassy in Damascus’ Facebook account said: “The U.S. is deeply concerned about recent violence in northwest Syria. All parties should protect civilian lives and property.”
QUESTION: So you took issue with Tahrir al-Sham being in control of Afrin in Syria. Now they’re supposedly withdrawn from the city, but some reports indicate – including some reports from conflict monetary organizations and – claim that they haven’t really withdrawn from the city. They’ve switched their flags from their flag to some other groups. What’s your current understanding of Tahrir al-Sham’s control of Afrin?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to offer a more updated assessment beyond what we’ve said (inaudible). It’s something we monitor very closely, but I just don’t have an updated assessment to offer today.
QUESTION: Apart from just calling for them to leave the city, did you have any other tools to get them out of the city?
MR PRICE: This is something that we’ve been focused on with partners in the region. Of course, instability in Syria, and the ability of extremist groups, of terrorist groups to use Syrian territory to form a base to plot is of concern to all of us. We have a range of tools, and we’ll continue to calibrate those tools appropriately.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.