U.S. President Donald Trump's Special Representative for the Global Fight Against Daesh Brett McGurk told the New Yorker in an interview that he is extremely concerned with the recent developments in the Idlib region in northwestern Syria where he said a faction of al-Qaida has taken over areas across the Turkish border.
He said, "Trends apparent for some time culminated over the last couple of weeks, with the dominant al-Qaida movement taking the main border crossings and populated areas. We have to make sure al-Qaida-linked fighters cannot get in and out. We are going to have to work with the Turks and others to degrade this presence. This is not something that's spreading. But, within Idlib, al-Qaida is working hard to take the reins of power."
His remarks seemed to suggest that the U.S. is prepared to cooperate with Turkey to get rid of the al-Qaida-affiliated elements across the Turkish border and that he is prepared to go along to undertake this mission with Turkish forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Then came a statement by the PKK's Syrian offshoot the People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who said they would turn their backs on the U.S. and pull out of the Raqqa operation. A YPG official was quick to declare that the SDF will withdraw its troops from the Raqqa operation and position them in and around Afrin to counter Turkish military buildup across the border.
This was not the first ultimatum by the YPG against Washington, which has been arming the PKK affiliates to fight Daesh in Raqqa.
Suddenly McGurk seems to have made a U-turn, hinting that Turkey has helped al-Qaida gain strength in Idlib by allowing al-Qaeda officials into the region through Turkish territory. McGurk, speaking at the Middle East Institute in Washington on Friday, said Idlib has turned into a "safe zone for al-Qaida terrorists on the Turkish border." He also attributed the al-Qaida-linked terror groups' power to their ability to obtain weapons and foreign fighters, also mentioning that the U.S. intended to work with Turkey to close down the northeastern border to recruited militants. He asked how al-Qaida leaders had managed to slip into Idlib, saying they were not parachuted there, which suggested they came through Turkey.
Another panelist explained that the al-Qaida leaders had in fact been released by Iran in a prisoners swap deal and had been slipped into Idlib by the Iranian militia.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry protested against McGurk's statement, saying it was "provocative" for making a connection between Turkey and the presence of terror groups in Idlib.
So it seems the YPG and the PKK are continuing to contaminate relations between Turkey and the U.S. people like McGurk have to see that this does not serve anyone in Washington and Ankara in the long run.
Turkey has forged a good understanding with Russia to create and enforce a de-escalation zone in Idlib. It is only normal that the two countries will do everything to clean out al-Qaida in the region. The U.S. should be more than welcome to join the process. Yet, Washington has to see that this cannot be done while listening to YPG and PKK tantrums.
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