Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım warned that his government would attack U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria if Ankara deemed it necessary, shortly before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met his American counterpart Donald Trump in Washington.
“If necessary assurances are not given, what we’ll do is very clear. We are determined and we will do what’s necessary in order to clean terror, whether it is within our borders or outside our borders,” Yıldırım said on Tuesday in remarks to his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP). “Cooperation with one terrorist organization in order to defeat another terrorist organization is unacceptable.”
The Turkish government considers the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) a terrorist group, indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). While the United States has designated the Marxist PKK a terrorist organization – and President Trump mentioned the PKK as an enemy terrorist group during a joint statement with Erdogan Tuesday – the YPG/YPJ are longtime allies of the United States and considered among the most effective military groups operating on the ground against the Islamic State in Syria.
The White House recently announced it would arm the Kurdish elements of the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), an ethnically diverse anti-Islamic State coalition largely consisting of YPG members. The news followed mounting reports that ISIS’s “Caliphate” in Iraq and Syria is in its last stages, with the operation to liberate Mosul, Iraq, nearing its end and Syrian Kurdish units preparing a final liberation of Raqqa, the ISIS “capital.”
Erdogan also criticized the arming of the YPG on Sunday, though he was careful not to criticize the Trump administration in anticipation of his visit to Washington. “There are Obama’s men in lower positions [in the current administration]. He [Trump] is looking at the situation in Iraq and Syria through the information fed by them,” Erdogan posited. “And I say there is no need for the YPG or the PYD [Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party].”
Turkey’s condemnation of arming the YPG was swift and loud. In late April, Turkish troops attacked YPG positions in Syria, killing at least eighteen fighters and embedded journalists and PKK positions in Iraq. Unlike in Syria, the dominant Kurdish force in Iraq, the Peshmerga, oppose the PKK’s presence in northern Iraq and maintain friendly relations with Turkey. Following the airstrikes, reports surfaced of an increased presence of U.S. troops in the area, intended to dissuade Turkey from attacking U.S. allies.
In addition to attacking U.S. allies, Turkish officials condemned Washington. “The Trump administration providing arms to a terrorist organization — either directly or indirectly through the YPG — does not change the fact that this amounts to support to a terror organization,” Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli protested last week, calling the cooperation between the groups “unacceptable.” He added, “We cannot accept the presence of terrorist organizations that would threaten the future of the Turkish state.”
On Tuesday, in anticipation of increased American attention on the matter given Erdogan’s visit, the Turkish Ministry of the Interior published an e-book arguing that the YPG and the PKK were one in the same. “The main objective of the 68-pages long book is to debunk the perception that the PYD [the political organization tied to the YPG/YPJ] is any different from the PKK terror group,” Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported.