In remarks Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asserted that he would personally demand President Donald Trump rescind his support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), as Turkey’s “patience has ended” with the anti-Islamic State collaboration between the two.
The Pentagon announced this week it would expand military support for the YPG, considered one of the most successful militias fighting ISIS today. Turkey considers the YPG an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist terrorist group seeking to establish an independent Kurdistan. In a report published Thursday, the Turkish state-run Anadolu News Agency describes the PKK as an “umbrella organization” that “franchises” itself to regional affiliates, making international support of their subgroups more palatable.
“We would like to believe that our allies will prefer to side with us and not with terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said in remarks during a press conference with Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma. The president added that he hoped the Pentagon would “reverse” its decision to arm the YPG “before I go to America.”
Erdogan is scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump in Washington on May 16, a meeting he said he hoped “will ensure the stability of the region and will lead us to reach a conclusion compatible with the realities of Syria.” It will be the first in-person meeting between the two leaders, though they have spoken on the phone, most recently following a Turkish referendum in which voters chose to shift from a parliamentary to a presidential system.
Turkish officials have not only demanded the United States cease supporting its most effective ally against ISIS in Syria, officials have threatened to attack the YPG if America does not abandon them. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Turkish officials warned their American counterparts of such an attack on Wednesday, citing an unnamed Turkish official who told the newspaper, “Turkey’s message to the Trump administration was that Turkey reserves the right to take military action.” Turkey has already conducted limited strikes against the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in the past month on its border with Syria.
Washington issued a statement Tuesday confirming that it would provide heavy weapons to the “Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces” – the YPG, who make up most of the ethnically-mixed SDF. The Pentagon described the move as “necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa, Syria.” The United States perceives a role for the YPG to play in liberating Raqqa, the Islamic State’s “capital,” while Turkey has demanded that only Arab and Turkmen fighters participate in that battle. The YPG has consistently cooperated with the United States, sharing ground intelligence on ISIS targets in Rojava.
A report published this week in the Kurdish news outlet Bas News suggests that U.S. support does not end with providing firearms. Bas claims that American Special Forces are working to recruit and train “volunteers” to help the Syrian Kurdish fighters near Kobani, a town on the Syrian-Kurdish border that the YPG freed from ISIS. Those being trained are allegedly not members of the YPG or affiliated in any way.
Following that announcement, a chorus of high-ranking Turkish officials condemned the move to arm the YPG, which they referred to as an extension of the PKK. Turkey is currently involved in an extensive anti-terror operation in its southeast against PKK elements, who Ankara fear are cooperating with the YPG in Rojava, or Syrian Kurdistan.
“Any initiative to support the PKK directly or indirectly is unacceptable for us,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday, referring to the YPG. “We cannot accept the presence of terrorist organizations that would threaten the future of the Turkish state. We hope the U.S. administration will put a stop to this wrong and turn back away from it. Such a policy will not be beneficial, you can’t be in the same sack as terrorist organizations,” his deputy, Nurettin Canikli, added.
Shortly before Erdogan’s comments, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu asserted that “every weapon seized by [the YPG] is a threat to Turkey,” including those that the United States provides.