Turkey Urges US End Working With Kurds Amid Airstrikes on Syria

Turkey called on the US to stop working with Kurdish YPG militants in Syria, vowing to maintain its cross-border offensives against America’s Kurdish allies in Syria after the US shot down a Turkish drone in the region.

(Bloomberg) — Turkey called on the US to stop working with Kurdish YPG militants in Syria, vowing to maintain its cross-border offensives against America’s Kurdish allies in Syria after the US shot down a Turkish drone in the region.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “with strong expressions that the US, as an ally, should stop working with the terrorist organization YPG in northern Syria, ” according to a readout statement from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry. 

Turkey has since 2015 urged Washington to stop arming and training Kurdish YPG militants, allied with the US forces against Islamic State in Syria, that Turkey sees as terrorists. Turkey conducted retaliatory airstrikes against YPG militants in northern Syria on Thursday, during which an American F-16 jet shot down a Turkish drone that flew to within half a kilometer of US forces in Syria, a rare instance of two NATO allies coming into conflict and which led the lira to weaken.

“Turkey’s counter-terrorism operations in Iraq and Syria will continue with determination,” Fidan said during the call with Blinken on Friday, referring to Turkish airstrikes in reprisal for a suicide-bomb attack in Ankara over the weekend which Turkish intelligence said was carried out by Kurdish militants from Syria.  

Turkey views the YPG, thought to have tens of thousands of fighters, as a security threat due to its ties to the PKK — a separatist group that’s based in Iraq and deemed a terrorist organization by the US and European Union.

Fidan and Blinken agreed that an existing de-escalation mechanism between Turkish and US forces in Iraq and Syria should be effectively operated “in a way that would not hinder” Turkey’s fight against terrorism, the readout said, referring to downing of the Turkish drone. The US, for its part, has warned Turkey against unilateral airstrikes that could threaten American personnel.

Turkey Terror Attack Spells Trouble for NATO: Mideast Briefing

The unmanned aircraft was operated by Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency, which was conducting cross-border operations in retaliation for a suicide-bomb in the Turkish capital on Sunday. The attack, which injured two security officers, was claimed by Kurdish militant group PKK and organized from Syria, according to Turkish intelligence.

Earlier on Friday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry acknowledged that the armed drone belonged to Turkey. In a written statement, it said the drone “was lost over differences in technical assessments… with third parties.”

US Defense Department spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder said there was no sign the drone planned to strike American troops. Nonetheless, Turkey’s operations have stoked fresh tensions with Washington, which supports Kurdish forces who it says have played a major role in the US-led effort to defeat the Islamic State.

Ties between the two NATO allies have recently come under more strain, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delaying Sweden’s entry to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Fidan and Blinken also discussed Sweden’s membership bid, the Turkish readout said without elaborating.

“Aerial operations were aimed at eliminating the terrorist threat emanating from northern Syria,” the Turkish Defense Ministry said.

US Shoots Down Turkish Drone That Approached Troops in Syria

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged de-escalation in a phone call with his Turkish counterpart, while acknowledging Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns,” the Pentagon said in a statement. He affirmed a commitment to close coordination with Ankara to prevent any risk to US forces in Syria.

Kurdish groups retain control over a large swathe of territory in Syria, which has been mired in a civil war since 2011. 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Damascus-based government has largely consolidated its rule elsewhere in the country with the help of Russia and Iran. On Thursday, rebel forces hit a military academy in the Assad-controlled city of Homs, killing over 100 people, according to UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syria’s state-media put the number of dead at 80.

Read: All About the YPG, the Syrian Kurds Vexing Turkey: QuickTake

Turkey’s broader conflict with Kurdish militants has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.

Turkey’s last major incursion into Syria took place in late 2019, with the stated aim of pushing armed groups away from the border. It later halted its operations following cease-fire agreements with the US and Russia.

Thursday’s air campaign also came as Turkey continues to insist on the full cooperation of Stockholm in cracking down on supporters of Kurdish militants within Sweden before approving its bid to join NATO. 

Read: Why US-Turkey Relations Hinge on a Fighter Jet Deal: QuickTake

(Updates with Turkish Foreign Ministry statement in fifth paragraph, market metrics.)

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