The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned it will not participate in a U.S.-led coalition offensive to push the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) out of Raqqa, its de facto capital in Syria, if the Syrian Kurds are also involved in the operation.
Turkey’s position towards the liberation of Raqqa was announced soon after the New York Times (NYT) reported that the Obama administration is considering directly arming the Syrian Kurds combating ISIS, a move that could break down the already strained relationship between the United States and Turkey.
Turkey, which is America’s NATO ally and part of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, has long considered the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which controls a large portion of northern Syria, and its armed militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), to be affiliated with the communist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a group that has been deemed a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington.
“Negotiations are still ongoing, there is nothing certain yet. Our principled stance is the same as it was with Manbij and Jarablus. It is out of the question for us to take part in an operation in which the PYD/YPG are present,” Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for the Erdogan administration, told state-run news channel TRT Haber on Thursday, reports Hurriyet Daily News.
“In principle, we support Raqqa and the other Syrian cities being cleansed from Daesh [ISIS], but as we said before, we have principles and conditions on the issue,” added the spokesman.
The Obama administration, with the exception of the Pentagon, does not consider the Syrian Kurdish groups to be aligned with the terrorist PKK group.
To the dismay of Erdogan, the White House and the U.S. State Department have declared the Syrian Kurds to be the most effective force fighting ISIS on the ground in Syria, rather than terrorists.
The Turkish president has long been opposed to the U.S. arming the Syrian Kurds, which he considers enemies.
Two U.S. allies, since last month, have found themselves on opposing sides of a Turkey military offensive, which the Daily Sabah warns would intensify if the Syrian Kurds are directly armed by America.
Turkey has been backing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) against the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an Arab-Kurdish alliance led by the YPG. Both the FSA and SDF have received military assistance from the Obama administration.
“While U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arabs fighters liberated Manbij in early August, Turkey-backed Syrian rebel forces and Turkish troops took control of Jarablus in late August,” explains Hurriyet.