Turkey to US: Reverse plan to arm Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS

Kurdish forces in Syria heading a convoy of US military vehicles. The US sees the militia as a valuable partner in the fight against ISIS.
Kurdish forces in Syria heading a convoy of US military vehicles. The US sees the militia as a valuable partner in the fight against ISIS.PHOTO: REUTERS

Weapons can be passed to Kurdish rebel group PKK, and be threat to Turkey: Minister

ANKARA • Turkey yesterday urged the United States to reverse a decision to arm Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Syria, saying that every weapon supplied to the People's Protection Units (YPG) constituted "a threat to Turkey".

The angry statement came a week before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due in Washington for his first meeting with US President Donald Trump, who approved the arms supply to support a campaign to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Turkey views the YPG as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought an insurgency in south-east Turkey since 1984 and is considered a terrorist group by the US, Turkey and Europe.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking during a visit to Montenegro yesterday, said weapons supplied to the YPG had, in the past, fallen into PKK hands.

"Both the PKK and YPG are terrorist organisations and they are no different apart from their names," he said. "Every weapon seized by them is a threat to Turkey."

The US sees the YPG as a valuable partner in the fight against ISIS militants in northern Syria, and says arming the Kurdish forces is necessary to retaking Raqqa, the de facto ISIS capital in Syria and a hub for planning attacks against the West.

The YPG said Washington's decision would bring swift results and help the militia "play a stronger, more influential and more decisive role in combating terrorism".

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There is no reality in the comments that a ground operation against Daesh ( ISIS) can only be successful with the YPG. I hope they turn back from this mistake.

TURKEY'S DEPUTY PREMIER NURETTIN CANIKLI, referring to the US plan to arm Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Syria.

The Pentagon on Tuesday said it was aware of concerns in Turkey, a Nato ally that has given vital support to a US-led campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Jets carrying out air strikes against ISIS have flown from Turkey's Incirlik airbase.

Mr Erdogan has not yet responded to Mr Trump's decision, but has repeatedly castigated Washington for its support of the YPG.

Ankara has argued that Washington should switch support for the Raqqa assault from the YPG to Syrian rebels that Turkey has trained and led against ISIS for the past year - despite Washington's scepticism about their military capability.

Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli, in an interview with Turkish broadcaster A Haber, said: "There is no reality in the comments that a ground operation against Daesh (ISIS) can only be successful with the YPG. I hope they turn back from this mistake."

Despite the angry language, Mr Erdogan's government has little chance of reversing Washington's decision, and any retaliatory move would come at a cost.

Mr Cavusoglu said Mr Erdogan would discuss the issue with Mr Trump during his planned visit to Washington next Tuesday and Wednesday, suggesting there were no plans to call off the talks in protest.

Mr Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and analyst at Carnegie Europe, said: "Turkey doesn't have much room to move here.

"I think Washington made such an evaluation when taking this decision."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2017, with the headline 'Turkey to US: Reverse plan to arm Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS'. Print Edition | Subscribe