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Nato pleads for restraint as Turkey battles Kurdish militia in Syria

Forces battling the Kurds in Operation Olive Branch have been visited by Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Nato’s chief has urged Turkey to limit its use of force in northern Syria where its troops are battling a Kurdish militia that has been a top US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group.

The alliance’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said he had discussed developments in the region with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Nato allies.

Mr Stoltenberg noted Turkey is an ally “that suffers the most from terrorism” and said that “all nations have the right to defend themselves, but this has to be done in a proportionate and measured way”.

The United States has by far the biggest defence budget of any of Nato’s 29 allies and wields most political influence, while Turkey has one of the alliance’s biggest armies.

Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters in Azaz, Syria (AP)

Tensions between them are an embarrassment for Nato, but Mr Stoltenberg has refrained from criticising either country and suggests it is a bilateral issue because the alliance has no troops on the ground in Syria.

Mr Erdogan has travelled to the country’s border with Syria, where was being briefed on Turkey’s military offensive against the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin.

Officials from Mr Erdogan’s office said the Turkish leader was visiting the command centre overseeing the offensive, codenamed Olive Branch, in Hatay province.

Mr Erdogan was accompanied by Turkey’s chief of military staff, the defence minister and other top officers, the officials said.

Turkey launched the offensive on January 20 to drive out Syrian Kurdish fighters it regards as a security threat because of their affiliation with outlawed Kurdish rebels in Turkey.

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