Turkish security forces conduct operations against the PKK in Turkey. Photo: AA
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pressuring his new US counterpart Donald Trump to drop support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, re-iterating the Turkish stance of the organization being an arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
"The YPG is an arm of the PKK. We must put an end to this," said Erodgan in an interview with Al-Jazeera news. "We can't destroy one terrorist group with another one. We are strategic partners with the US."
The PKK is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.
The Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC) and the mostly Kurdish YPG comprise the diverse Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who have proven to be effective fighters against ISIS.
The international coalition to defeat ISIS — to which Turkey is a member — claims it has recaptured 14,000 square-kilometers of terrain once held by ISIS in Syria, including more than 7,400 square-kilometers since operations around Raqqa began on November 5, 2016.
In a recent visit to northern Syria by a top advisor to the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell observed the SDF in action and in training with US forces.
“I walked away with the utmost confidence that the Syrian Democratic Forces can get the job done,” he said in a Department of Defense interview after the visit, noting that "ISIS is the common enemy."
Troxell described the discipline and command he observed demonstrated by the SDF.
“The key leaders were older, but you could tell they have a good [command] climate, that commanders are engaged and they are a disciplined force,” he said. “Talking to some of our special operators, in their opinion, [the SDF] was some of the best partnered forces they have ever been with.”
US Col. and coalition spokesman John Dorrian in mid-March told Rudaw that the increased number of US troops in northern Syria have not observed a threat posed by SDF components to Turkey.
“They've had a visible presence more recently, and the purpose of their presence right now is to make sure there is no security incident and to make sure there is no persistent [the Kurdish force] YPG presence in the city, or anything that would threaten Turkey because we are also committed to Turkey's security," Dorrian said.
"And what we've found so far is that there is exactly zero threat to Turkey's security in Manbij."
Erdogan and Trump have spoken on the telephone several times. The two are expected to meet at the May 24 NATO Summit in Brussels.
"With President Obama, we had a mutual agreement about the PKK — but Obama deceived us,” Erdogan said. “I don't believe the Trump administration will do the same."
The PKK resumed armed clashes against the Turkish state inside and across the Turkish border in July 2015 after the peace progress between Ankara and the PKK was shattered.
An estimated 40,000 people have died in clashes between the PKK and the Turkish state over the past three decades.
Turkey regular conducts strikes against PKK bases in border regions.