Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed threats on Friday to expand his country’s military operations into northern Syrian territory controlled by the U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters.
His comments came soon after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are America’s “great partners” in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
U.S. support for the YPG has infuriated Ankara, which considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters to be an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) terrorist group waging an insurgency within Turkey.
YPG fighters are the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that controls swathes of territory east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria. The YPG leads and makes up the majority of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance fighting against ISIS.
“God willing, very soon … we will leave the terror nests east of the Euphrates in disarray,” Erdogan declared at a military ceremony honoring Turkish commandos, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
Early this month, Erdogan indicated that Turkey intends to completely clear northern Syria of YPG militiamen and their allies.
“Now is time to take completely take the YPG out of Manbij and leave the region to the locals, both in terms of administration and security,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu added.
So far, Turkey has launched two incursions — in 2016 and 2018— into areas west of the Euphrates, clearing the territory of ISIS and U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Secretary Pompeo indicated on Thursday that the United States will ensure that the Syrian Kurds participate in discussions to determine Syria’s future.
He told the annual Jewish Institute for National Security of America awards dinner, “We’ve worked closely with the Syrian Kurds now for my entire time in service in this administration. They have been great partners. We are now driving to make sure that they have a seat at the table.”
Pompeo noted that the United States military would remain in Syria until the stakeholders achieve a political resolution and Iran leaves the country. The United States considers Iran to be the world’s chief state-sponsor fo terrorism.
The Syrian regime had expressed a willingness to discuss the possibility of allowing the Kurds to keep their autonomy, but negotiations with Russian and Iranian-backed dictator Bashar al-Assad have hit a roadblock.
The Syrian Kurds want Assad to recognize their autonomous region.
U.S. support for the Syrian Kurds has strained the relationship between Turkey and the United States and pushed Ankara closer to Moscow.
Although Turkey and Russia are on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict, the two countries have worked together.