Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks to the press, September 21, 2019
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stepped up his rhetorical attack on US links with Kurdish groups in northeast Syria, declaring that Washington’s “support for terrorist organizations is obvious”.
Earlier this month Turkey and the US began joint patrols of a “safe zone” along 450 km (250 miles) of the Turkish border with northern Syria, extending east across the Euphrates River to Iraq. The area covers two Kurdish cantons, Kobani and Cezire, where Kurdish groups have claimed autonomy.
But Turkish officials quickly derided the Americans for not fulfilling obligations for the zone, whose depth is undefined. On Thursday, Erdoğan said, “If there are no results in two weeks, we will activate our own military plans.”
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar backed up the warning, “We have completed our preparations. If necessary, we will take the matter into our own hands just as the President has said before. Our plans B and C are ready.”
On Saturday, Erdoğan followed up in a press conference before he departed for the UN General Assembly in New York, where he is expected to meet Donald Trump:
We have completed all of our preparations along the border.
We are together with the U.S. in NATO and we have continued our strategic partnership for many years. But in a place where the United States is not invited, we cannot afford to ignore the support it has given to terrorist organizations.
In other words, their support for terrorist organizations such as the People’s Protection Units [the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG] and the [Turkish Kurdish insurgency] PKK is obvious.
Ankara considers the YPG, the military arm of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), to be part of the PKK. But the YPG is the largest faction in the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces, created in autumn 2015 to push the Islamic State out of northeast Syria.
The Americans have not responded clearly to Erdoğan’s warnings. The US envoy for the anti-ISIS effort in Syria, James Jeffrey, said Washington will act in the northeast — but referred only to stopping “penetration” by the Assad regime.
Brig. Gen. Scott Naumann, the director of operations for the US-led coalition, said the US will not send additional troops despite the possible threat to Kurdish areas by both Turkey and the Assad regime.