Ankara: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday strongly rejected Washington’s calls for his country to protect US-backed Kurdish militias in Syria and said statements made by US National Security Adviser John Bolton asking for the same were “unacceptable”.
At the start of his visit to Israel and Turkey over the weekend, Bolton said that the American forces would remain in Syria until the last remnants of the Islamic State were defeated and Turkey provided guarantees that it would not strike Kurdish forces allied with the US.
The top US official was currently in Turkey and held meetings with his counterpart Ibrahim Kalin and others, Efe news reported.
Speaking to Justice and Development Party (AKP) party members in Ankara, Erdogan decried Bolton’s statement as a “serious error”.
“It is impossible for us to accept Bolton’s message,” he said in a live televised speech. “They are terrorists, for this reason, they cannot tell us ‘don’t touch those Kurds.’ Whatever happens, if they are terrorists, we will do whatever it takes. This is what John Bolton got very wrong.”
Erdogan added that the Americans did not know who the YPG and other Kurdish groups were. “If the US evaluates them as ‘Kurdish brothers’ then they are in a serious delusion,” he said.
Turkey has drawn up plans to launch a military incursion into areas of northeastern Syria to clear the region of the militias such as the YPG, one of the main cogs in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) umbrella group, which united Kurdish and local Arab units and was backed by American forces in the fight against the Islamic State.
While the US Army — which has deployed some 2,000 ground troops to the region, where they equip and train the SDF — regards the YPG as a solid fighting partner in the regional battle against the extremists, Ankara views them as a terrorist group inextricably linked to the PKK, Kurdish separatists that fought a decades-long insurgency in eastern Turkey.
“The terrorist organizations of the PKK and the PYD (the political arm of the YPG) can never represent my Kurdish brothers,” Erdogan said, adding that his Army was ready to launch an operation in northern Syria to clear the region of the militias.
Turkey wants to push the Kurdish forces to the east of the Euphrates River.
SDF forces retain control of the key city of Manbij, a predominantly-Arab settlement to the west of the major river.
Turkish-backed Syrian militias captured a tranche of northern Syria from the IS in its first major incursion into the territory in 2016. Then, in 2018, Turkey and its allies took Afrin province, located in far northwestern Syria, from Kurdish militias.
The YPG-led SDF have spearheaded the battle on the ground against the IS and were currently routing out insurgents from their last major settlement, Hajin, in the country’s sparsely-populated east.