In the latest incendiary comments from the Turkish government, a senior adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Wednesday of the possibility of future Turkish attacks on American forces operating in the region.
“If they [Kurdish forces] go too far, our [forces won’t care] that American armored vehicles are there. … Unexpectedly, a number of rockets may also hit them by accident,” said Ilnur Cevik, in response to a radio interview question on the recent deployment of American soldiers with the Kurdish militias in Northern Syria.
Following last week’s surprise Turkish airstrikes on Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish forces in Sinjar and Derik — killing around 70 combatants allied with the U.S. — the conflict has escalated between two key American allies in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), leading the Syrian Kurds to demand a no-fly zone from the U.S.
“If they [the U.S.] do this [partner with Kurdish forces], what are you supposed to do?” added Mr. Cevik, reiterating his indifference to Turkish attacks on U.S. forces.
The Syrian Kurdish Peoples Protection Units, or YPG, form the core of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Turkey claims the YPG is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, with which it has engaged in a decades-long war. The U.S. has designated the PKK a terrorist organization.
Responding to the Turkish threats, the U.S. Department of Defense stated, “We find these comments to be irresponsible and unacceptable.”
While Turkey’s sentiments are uniquely aggressive to be coming from a NATO partner and prospective European Union member, they are only the latest in a series.
Throughout March, President Erdogan told Europeans that they “will not walk safely in the streets” if Germany and the Netherlands did not back down amidst a diplomatic disagreement and called the European Union “fascist” and a “crusader alliance” that is “submissive” to the pope.
Off-kilter comments toward the United States also include declarations from Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that U.S.-Turkish relations would need to be reevaluated and that preferring the YPG over Turkey in Syria “wouldn’t be something we would consent” to.
PM Yildirim added that when President Erdogan meets with President Trump, he will push President Trump to end the usage of such terms as “radical Islamic terrorism” — a throwback to when President Obama was unwilling to condemn radical Islamic terrorism.
What will come of this month’s meeting between President Trump and President Erdogan?
If the last two years are any guide, a foreign leader does not fare well when complacent in threats to the safety of the U.S. armed forces and particularly when such a leader intends to push around their commander-in-chief.
The author is a Kurdish Affairs analyst.