President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed his sharp criticism of the U.S. over advanced cooperation with the PYD, Syrian Kurdish political party, and its armed wing, in the fight against Islamic State, instead of its NATO ally Turkey, expressing his resentment in the strongest terms.
The Turkish president, who frequently voice vehement criticism against the U.S. over the contentious issue of American support for the Syrian Kurdish militia, again questioned the nature of Turkey-U.S. relations. On Friday, Erdogan spoke to academics and scholars at an inauguration of the academic year at Recep Tayyip Erdogan University at his hometown, Black Sea province of Rize.
Major themes of his speech were the impending Mosul operation, the presence of Turkish forces in Iraq, the escalating row with Baghdad and the U.S. relationship with Syrian Kurdish militia.
As Turkey is locked in an ensuing spat with Iraq over military presence at a base near Mosul, Erdogan questioned Iraq’s capability to handle the Mosul operation. He again rejected repeated calls from Iraq for withdrawal of Turkish troops, saying that Turkey will keep its forces in Bashiqa camp until Mosul is liberated.
Turkey’s contemplation of participating to the Mosul offensive irked Baghdad which vowed to remove Turkish troops from the Iraqi territory by force if needed. The row placed the entire military endeavor against Mosul in danger, and caused uneasiness in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, as State Department underlined that any military presence in Iraq must get the approval of Iraqi central government.
“Nobody should talk about our Bashiqa base. We will stay there. Bashiqa is our insurance against any kind of terrorist activities in Turkey,” the Turkish president said on Friday. Turkish military trainers train local forces and Kurdish peshmerga against ISIS, Ankara says.
Turkey is extremely wary of a new exodus of refugees during and after Mosul operation and vows to resist any change in the demographic structure of the Sunni-dominated city.
During his speech, Erdogan also reiterated Turkey’s fury about U.S. alignment of Kurdish PYD, and its militia People’s Protection Units (YPG), in Syria against ISIS. Erdogan claimed that new airfield and air bases are being constructed south of Kobani, suggesting that the U.S. is building new bases there. Erdogan said the U.S. should have taken such steps only after consultations with Turkey.
“If there is a step to be taken, you have to do that with consultation and negotiation with us, not with terrorist PYD,” Erdogan said.
“…And there also PDY, YPG, which are trash [extension] of PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party]… These are trash. And some people back them, protect them, airlift weapons to them,” Erdogan said of U.S. assistance to the Kurdish group whose expanding influence in northern Syria worries Ankara.
Turkey does not want to see a new Kurdish statelet in Syria, along with its long border, and sent forces and tanks to curb Kurdish expansion, as well as push back ISIS from its border, back in August.
“It [Syrian Kurdish militia] is trash of PKK, and you have to admit that. You are an ally with Turkey in NATO, and you will put Turkey, your NATO ally, aside and will act together with a terrorist organization. For what? Because it is fighting Daesh [ISIS]? What kind of absurdity is this?” Erdogan said.
Turkey sees Kurdish PYD, and its armed branch YPG, as Syrian extension of the PKK. While both Turkey and the U.S. see the Kurdish rebel group as a terrorist organization, Ankara presses for employing the same label to the YPG, which is seen by Washington as an indispensable ally in the fight against ISIS in Syria.
The U.S. and the West refuse to recognize Syrian Kurdish militants as terrorist groups despite its affiliation with the PKK. The issue has been a source of repeated friction and dispute between Turkey and its Western allies.