Turkey is furious at the US decision to provide heavy weaponry to Syrian Kurdish militants in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Turkey considers the Kurdish Syrian YPG as the armed wing of Turkish PKK and both groups as “terrorist organizations” posing a threat to the country’s unity.
“I want to believe that Turkey’s allies will stand by Ankara and not by terrorist organizations,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said expressing the hope “the US will revoke this mistake.”
“The U.S. administration still has the opportunity to take Turkey’s sensitivity about the terror organization PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party – PKK] into consideration,” Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said.
“If a negative decision is taken, its consequences will not only be against Turkey but have a negative impact on the U.S., too,” Yıldırım said.
Yıldırım’s remarks came one day after U.S. President Donald Trump authorized the arming of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) “as necessary to ensure a clear victory” in a planned assault to retake the northern Syrian city of Raqqa from ISIL.
Ankara considers the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the YPG, as “terrorist” groups linked to the PKK and has long pressed Washington to stop its support for the group.
“Turkey’s stance on this issue is very clear: We are against using a terrorist group against another terrorist group, and we have conveyed this clear message to our counterparts,” said Yıldırım.
According to Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, every weapon obtained by the YPG constitutes a threat to Turkey.
Çavuşoğlu said the United States should distinguish between the YPG and their Arab allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, and that the Arabs should be the ones to enter Raqqa.
“Both the PKK and the YPG are terrorist organizations and they are no different, apart from their names. Every weapon seized by them is a threat to Turkey,” Çavuşoğlu said.
Çavuşoğlu said the U.S. was aware of Turkey’s stance and that the issues would be discussed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when he meets Trump in Washington May 16-17.
Turkish opposition parties called on Erdogan to cancel his visit to Washington.
Washington, meanwhile, took a step to ease Turkey’s concerns.
Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said he was confident the U.S. could allay any concerns Turkey has over the decision.
“We will work very closely with Turkey in support of their security on their southern border,” Mattis said at a news conference in Lithuania.
“We have very open discussions about options and we will work together, we will work out any of the concerns. I am not concerned at all about the NATO alliance and the relations between our nations.”
YPG spokesman Redur Xelil, meanwhile, described the move as “somewhat late,” but would still “provide a strong impetus” to all forces fighting ISIL.
The announcement of Trump’s decision came after a high-level Turkish delegation held talks in the U.S. capital ahead of Erdoğan’s visit to the White House next week. During the meetings, the delegation tried to convince the U.S. officials to only use Arab fighters to capture Raqqa.
Turkey has said it is keen to join the battle to recapture Raqqa but on condition that the offensive does not include the YPG.
Last month, Erdoğan said that if Turkey and the U.S. joined forces, they could turn Raqqa into a “graveyard” for ISIL.
Arming Kurdish Syrians and engage them in in Raqqa is a real nightmare for Turkey who could see the Kurds in Syria and Northern Iraq come geographically very close.
Until 1999, PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan had his headquarters in Syria and from there he was fighting against Turkey.