ISTANBUL, TURKEY - Ankara has launched new attacks and threats aimed at Washington for ongoing U.S. support of the Syrian-Kurdish militia, the YPG. The latest verbal salvo comes as diplomatic talks between the NATO allies continue to resolve their worst crisis in bilateral relations.
The YPG is a key ally in Washington’s war against Islamic State militants, but Ankara accuses the militia of being linked to the PKK, which is waging a decades-long Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim slammed Washington for the recent creation of a Syrian political party dubbed "Syria's Future,” which Yildirim claimed was nothing more than a political front for the YPG.
“We know them well. They may be able to fool some of our allies by changing their name, but Turkey will recognize them,” Yildirim told reporters. “The United States, which tried to hide the PKK with three-letter signs in order to form a terror corridor to siege Turkey from the south, is now making these villains set up a party in Syria,” Yildirim added.
Ankara is demanding the removal of the YPG Kurdish militia and its political wing, the PYD from the Syrian town of Manbij. The creation of the new Syrian party is seen by Ankara as the latest example of deception by Washington, in which Kurdish forces simply rename themselves, but remain in Manbij.
Manbij is a key point of tension in U.S.-Turkish relations. Under former U.S. president Barack Obama, American forces promised the YPG militia would withdraw from the town after ousting Islamic State. “How trustworthy are the United States as an ally,” declared international relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul’s Bilgi University. “Did they or did they not promise they would make YPG and PYD leave Manbij. Did they keep their promise? No,” added Ozel.
Adding to Ankara’s fury, U.S. forces are now deployed with the YPG in Manbij. The town is strategically important as a junction between east and west Syria. Analysts say U.S. forces see it as key not only preventing any re-emergence of Islamic State, but also countering growing Iranian influence.
Low on patience
But Ankara is warning its patience is running out with Washington. “It was stated that terrorists in Manbij should be removed from the region as soon as possible, or Turkey will not abstain from taking initiative,” read a statement after Wednesday’s meeting of Turkey’s National Security Council.
Observers warn Ankara is emboldened after Turkish-led forces scored a crushing victory over the YPG in the Syrian Afrin enclave around 100 kilometers from Manbij.
“Erdogan has announced Manbij is his next target, he is no doubt going to move slowly there,” says political columnist Semih Idiz of the al-Monitor website. “He is going to dare the Americans, either a diplomatic solution or possibly military solution. Over the next few days there will be some hard thinking in Washington,” said Idiz.
Turkish ministers have warned U.S. forces could be targeted if they remained deployed with YPG in Manbij. Such threats have been dismissed by U.S. generals, warning any attack on its forces would be strongly resisted.
Turkish and U.S. diplomats are engaged in seeking to resolve the looming confrontation. Talks have added urgency now that Turkish presidential and general elections are due next year. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government analysts are using the crisis to play to strong anti-American sentiments of its nationalist voting constituency.
“Because of the current political climate in Turkey, the tendency of the political leadership [is] to engage in highly populist discourse,” points out analyst Sinan Ulgen of Brussels-based Carnegie Europe, “…The failure in these talks may lead to an escalatory process, where Turkey would take measures, which would be responded to by the U.S.”
Ankara’s determination to end the threat posed by the PKK Kurdish insurgency is not only confined to Syria. Baghdad has also been put on notice over the presence of PKK bases in its territory. “It is expected from the Iraqi state to prevent terrorist group action in various locations in Iraq, especially in Sinjar and the Qandil Mountains,” read Wednesday's National Security Council statement.
The PKK has for decades had its headquarters in Iraq’s mountainous Qandil region. A Turkish military intervention into the Iraqi Sinjar region, where the PKK also was based, was narrowly averted after Kurdish fighters handed over the area to Iraqi forces. “For the global politics, raw power is back, playing hard ball is in fashion, we can see in a way, Turkey has joined the others,“ observes former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen.
“Turkey, will not shy away from projecting power either in Syria or Iraq,” added Selcen.