Mattis Pledges US Support Against PKK to Appease Turkey

James Mattis, Erdogan, military cooperation, PKK, Syria, Islamic State
President Erdogan shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Jim Mattis during a meeting at presidential palace in Ankara on Wednesday.

During his visit to Ankara on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis pledged support for Turkey in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“We agree 100 percent with Turkey’s concern about PKK…and we support Turkey in its fight against PKK as a fellow NATO member,” Mattis told reporters.

The secretary’s visit was designed to tamp down disputes between the two allies, since Turkey repeatedly protested against the U.S. military alliance with the PKK’s Syrian offshoot, People’s Protection Units (YPG).

During the trip, Mr. Mattis met with Turkish Minister of Defense Nurettin Canikli and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana White said the secretary and Mr. Canikli discussed the need for open dialogue between the two countries, the importance of territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq, as well as concern over “Iran’s malign influence in the region.”

“They further reaffirmed their shared resolve in the defeat of ISIS,” she added.

During a meeting at the Presidential Palace, President Erdogan renewed criticism of rapport between the U.S. and the Kurdish militia in northern Syria. To soothe the Turkish leader’s fury, Mr. Mattis underscored that the two parties cooperate on a temporary basis.

“Both [Mattis and Erdogan] expressed a shared interest for the two countries to create conditions for a more stable and secure region,” Ms. White said.

According to a report in Al-Monitor, the U.S. may be considering offering Turkey intelligence support in targeting PKK camps in the Qandil mountains, which serve as headquarters for the insurgent group’s leadership, and in the Sinjar region on the Iraq-Syria border.

The publication noted that Ankara is pressing Washington to provide it with the location of “high value” PKK targets. Some members of the administration reportedly floated the idea of assassinating such PKK leaders, as Cemil Bayik.

If implemented, the new information sharing scheme would boost the capacity of an intelligence fusion center in Ankara, according to the report.