Monday, January 14th, 2019

Turkey hits back at Trump threats over Kurds

Published 11:06 pm | January 14, 2019

Turkey on Monday vowed to keep up the fight against a US-backed Kurdish militia it views as terrorists after
Donald Trump warned of economic devastation if Ankara attacks Kurdish forces as American troops withdraw.

Trump’s threat came after Ankara repeatedly threatened a new cross-border
operation against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which have
working closely with the United States in the war on Islamic State
extremists.

US support to the YPG has been a major source of tension between the NATO
allies.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said
there was “no difference” between IS and the YPG.

“We will continue to fight against them all,” he said.

Trump on Sunday warned the US would “devastate Turkey economically if they
hit Kurds”.

“Mr @realDonaldTrump Terrorists can’t be your partners & allies. Turkey
expects the US to honor our strategic partnership and doesn’t want it to be
shadowed by terrorist propaganda,” Kalin said in a tweet to the US president.

Kalin said on Twitter that it was “a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds
with the PKK”, saying that Turkey fought against terrorists not Syrian Kurds.

While there have been tensions over American training of the YPG under the
Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, there appeared to be
some improvement on the issue after Trump said last month 2,000 American
troops would withdraw from Syria.

Ankara welcomed the pullout decision after Erdogan told Trump in a phone
call that Turkey could finish off the last remnants of IS.

– Renewed tensions –

Turkey views the YPG as a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan
Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish
state since 1984.

The PKK is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the United
States and the European Union.

Fahrettin Altun, the communications director at the Turkish presidency,
said Monday that Turkey’s fight against terrorism would continue “with
determination”, adding that Turkey was “not an enemy of the Kurds”.

“Whether the source of terrorism is ideological, religious or ethnic, it
does not matter. Terror is terror,” he said on Twitter.

There has been growing friction between Turkey and the US over the fate of
the YPG, especially after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this month said
Washington would ensure Turkey would not “slaughter” Kurds.

And before a visit to Ankara last week, White House National Security
adviser John Bolton said the US retreat was conditional on the safety of the
Kurdish fighters, provoking angry retorts from Turkish officials.

But Pompeo on Saturday said he was “optimistic” a way could be found to
protect Syrian Kurds while allowing Turks to “defend their country from
terrorists”.

The threat of new sanctions hit the Turkish lira which weakened early
Monday to reach over 5.5 to the US dollar, a loss of over 1.1 per cent in
value on the day.

Washington previously hit Ankara with sanctions last August over the
detention of an American pastor in Turkey.

The lira plunged to seven dollars at the height of tensions.

But to Turkey’s relief, the US sanctions were later lifted after Pastor
Andrew Brunson was released by a Turkish court in October.

– ‘Radical solution’ in Idlib –

Turkey previously launched military offensives in northern Syria in 2016
and 2018 respectively against IS and the YPG. In early 2018, Syrian rebels
backed by Turkish military forces captured the YPG’s northwestern enclave of
Afrin.

Ankara, which supports Syrian opposition fighters, is also involved in the
last rebel bastion of Idlib, where Turkey has agreed a buffer zone deal with
Damascus ally Russia.

But the deal has not stopped an assault by jihadists in Syria. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by jihadists from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, last week extended its administrative control over the whole of the Idlib region. Syria’s National Coalition, the leading opposition body, on Sunday called for a “radical solution” to put “an end to its (HTS) presence in Idlib”.

(AFP)

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