Turkey condemns US move to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters

2017-05-10 19:53
A fighter of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) standing in unknown mountains in Turkey near the border with Iraq. (Firat News Agency/ AFP)

A fighter of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) standing in unknown mountains in Turkey near the border with Iraq. (Firat News Agency/ AFP)

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Ankara - Turkey's top officials have slammed a decision by the US to arm the Syrian Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) while Washington said that it would address Ankara's security concerns.

Dana White, the Pentagon's chief spokesperson, said in a written statement on Tuesday that President  Donald Trump decided to "equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as necessary to ensure a clear victory" against ISIL in Raqqa, the group's self-declared capital in Syria. 

Turkey views the Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG), a central part of SDF, as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought the state in the southeast of Turkey since 1984 and is considered a "terrorist group" by the US and EU. 

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Wednesday that he could not imagine the US having to choose between Turkey's strategic partnership and a "terrorist organisation".

"The US administration still has chances to consider Turkey's sensitivities on the PKK. If there is a decision otherwise, this will surely have consequences and will yield a negative result for the US as well," Yildirim said, speaking at a news conference in Ankara before departing for London.

Every weapon obtained by the Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters constitutes a threat to Turkey, echoing Ankara's opposition to the US deal to arm the Kurdish fighters.

In response to Turkish remarks, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said that he was confident the Washington would be able to resolve tensions with Turkey over the issue.

"We’ll work out any of the concerns ... We will work very closely with Turkey in support of their security on their southern border. It's Europe's southern border, and we’ll stay closely connected," Mattis told reporters during a visit to Lithuania on Wednesday.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, had said on Tuesday that the US wants to reassure the people and government of Turkey that it is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting its NATO ally.

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to discuss the issue with Trump when he visits Washington next week.

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Al Jazeera's Charles Stratford, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkey-Syria border, said the US announcement that it was directly arming the YPG hit at the heart of Turkey's security concerns, not only in Syria but also in Turkey.

"Turkey has long considered the YPG the strongest Kurdish fighting force in Syria along that northern border to be affiliated with a terrorist organisation," he said.

"Last year [2016], Turkey's operation Euphrates Shield was not only targeting ISIL positions in that area but was aimed at weakening Kurdish forces along that border."

The US said it would closely monitor the weapons shipments, promising to cut supplies if arms were smuggled into areas that could threaten Turkey.

The SDF was founded in Syria's mainly Kurdish northeastern region in October 2015 and is made up of at least 15 armed factions, mostly fighters from the YPG and the Free Syrian Army.

One faction, Ghadab al-Fura launched a campaign in October 2016 to retake Raqqa. Last week it said it had taken 90% of Tabqa city in Raqqa province.
For its part, the YPG praised on Wednesday the "historic" US decision to arm its fighters battling ISIL and said it expected to play a stronger and more influential role in what it called the fight against "terrorism".

"We believe that from now on and after this historic decision, [the YPG] will play a stronger, more influential and more decisive role in combating terrorism at a fast pace," Redur Xelil, YPG spokesperson, said in a written statement.

"This rightful decision to arm our units shows the falsity of all false allegations were spread against our units and forces to distort their image and to diminish the importance of their role in the fight against terrorism," she said.


Read more on:    turkey  |  us

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