U.S. And Turkey On Collision Course Over Kurdish Forces In Syria
A top adviser for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ilnur Cevik, warned on May 3 that United States troops and equipment risk being destroyed due to their proximity to Kurdish forces in Northern Syria.
Turkey claims those fighters are aligned with the Kurdish militant group the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging a guerrilla war in Turkey for years.
In a radio interview on Turkish media, Cevik was asked what would happen to U.S. forces that were working with Kurdish forces that Turkey wants to attack.
“It doesn’t matter whether they are patrolling there. If those PKK terrorists continue their activities within Turkey…you know they are infiltrating from Northern Syria (into Turkey.) That’s the region they infiltrate from,” Cevik replied.
Cevik continued, “What happened to ISIS? We went there one night suddenly and found ourselves in al Bab. The same thing is valid for northern Syria. If they go little further than our forces [wouldn’t care whether] there are American armors there. Suddenly, you happen to see there are few missiles hit them [Americans] accidentally too!”
The interview did not go unnoticed at the Pentagon. Department of Defense spokesperson Eric Pahon called the comments “irresponsible and unacceptable,” while emphasizing the U.S. rejected Turkey’s claim that the Kurdish forces fighting with the U.S. against ISIS are connected to PKK.
Cevik backpedaled in response to controversy, tweeting, “Turkey has never and will never hit its allies anywhere and that includes the US in Syria.”
Though the threat to bomb U.S. forces appears to have been withdrawn, the threat came on the heels of Turkey’s deadly airstrike in April that killed U.S.-allied Kurdish forces fighting ISIS. Turkey justified the strike that killed over 20 people by claiming those targeted were members of PKK.
At the heart of the issue between the U.S. and Turkey is exactly who the Kurds fighting ISIS in North Syria are and who they are aligned with.
Shadowproof recently interviewed Joe Lawrence, a photographer who was embedded with Kurdish forces in Northern Syria and Iraq. Lawrence explained that both sides are being misleading.
The only effective force fighting ISIS in Northern Syria that the U.S. can align with is the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella organization that includes a number of different ethnic groups, including Kurds.
The SDF has proven itself on the battlefield and is a crucial component in the upcoming battle to take the ISIS capital of Raqqa. Every other group the U.S. tried to align with in Syria proved to be incompetent or ready to ally with jihadist forces.
Turkey claims the SDF includes Kurdish groups that are PKK members, which the U.S. denies. In reality, though the Kurdish groups within the SDF-the YPG and YPJ-are not formally aligned with the PKK, some of the members do share sympathies.
Turkey fears that once those PKK-sympathetic SDF fighters finish off ISIS, they will turnaround and join PKK in the guerrilla war in Turkey.
But given Turkey’s role in supporting Al Qaeda and ISS in Syria, it makes sense that the U.S. is less than enthusiastic about capitulating to Turkey’s demands to ditch the SDF when victory over ISIS is within reach.
Now, the question is whether or not Turkey is really willing to risk killing American troops, because the President Donald Trump’s administration has already decided its primary goal is to destroy ISIS, and the SDF is the only game in town.