ISTANBUL, TURKEY—Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized Washington over its support of Syrian Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units – the YPG, in its fight against the Islamic State. The dispute comes as tensions are renewed between the two NATO allies over the battle against the Islamic State.
Ankara and Washington could be on a collision course over the Syrian Kurdish militia the YPG.
U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby praised the YPG earlier this week, saying it has a proven track record in fighting the Islamic State and that the United States would continue to work with the group .
President Erdogan on Thursday slammed the comments. He said he believed the U.S. would re-evaluate what he called “this wrong view.” Erdogan said Turkey saw the Islamic State as a terrorist organization, as well as the YPG and the PKK.
The YPG is the military arm of the Syrian based PYD political group, which has been linked with the PKK in the past. The PKK, mainly based in Turkey, has been fighting Turkish security forces for greater minority rights.The United States, like Turkey and the EU consider the PKK as a terrorist group, a designation Washington does not give to the YPG.
This month, a senior Turkish diplomat reaffirmed that US jets operating from the Turkey’s Incirlik airbase were banned from assisting the YPG in its fight against the jihadists.
Such restrictions, says political columnist Semih Idiz of Turkey’s Cumhurriyet newspaper and Al Monitor website, has effectively crushed Washington’s hopes of the airbase playing a strategic role against the Islamic State.
“There is a certain amount of frustration on the American side and a feeling they may have been tricked. Incirlik has not been a game changer. With air strikes alone not doing the job, I don’t think Washington will want to lose any advantage on the ground and that is going to elevate the value of Syrian Kurds in American and Western eyes,” he said.
But if Washington steps up its support for the Syrian Kurdish militia, it would likely further strain relations with its Turkish ally. Observers say the latest statements from Washington indicate that is the price they may be willing to pay in the war against Islamic State.