US's photographed support to PKK offshoot YPG may cause another setback in ties with Turkey

Published 27.04.2017 23:20
Updated 27.04.2017 23:22
The photo, which was widely shared on social media, shows PKK terrorist Abdi Ferhad Şahin (2nd-Left) seen with a U.S. soldier in northern Syria.
The photo, which was widely shared on social media, shows PKK terrorist Abdi Ferhad Şahin (2nd-Left) seen with a U.S. soldier in northern Syria.

Photos of high ranking U.S. commanders paying a visit to areas bombed by the Turkish military together with PKK-linked YPG terrorists dealt another heavy blow to already sour Turkish-U.S. relations over the YPG issue

The mutual trust between Ankara and Washington on the issue of the PKK's Syrian wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), hit a new low earlier this week after Abdi Ferhad Şahin (second from the left), one of the most wanted PKK terrorists, was seen standing next to a U.S. commander (second from the right) in Syria's Karachok region, an area that had previously been bombed in Turkish counterterror operations against the PKK.

In the wake of Turkey's counterterror operation in northern Syria and Iraq, U.S. commanders visited the area accompanied by Redur Xelil, the so-called spokesman of the PYD's armed wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), and senior PKK militant Şahin, a man on the Turkish Interior Ministry's most wanted terrorist list with a bounty of TL 4 million. Şahin was seen briefing U.S. commanders with the help of an interpreter during the tour.

The PKK militant, code named "Şahin Cilo," is one of the senior members of the terrorist group, and the member responsible for the PKK's European operations back in 1998 when the group's leader, Abdullah Öcalan, was expelled from Syria. Şahin was in Kobani during the reconciliation process, which was unilaterally broken by the PKK.


Mark Toner, who is currently acting as the deputy spokesman for the Trump administration, was confronted with queries pertaining to the visit of a high-ranking U.S. official in Sinjar and the U.S's stance vis-à-vis the PKK terrorist organization during a news conference Thursday.

Toner was asked by an Anadolu Agency (AA) reporter whether there was a conflict of interest in the fact that the photographs, which had also been shared by the U.S. Department of Defense, showed how U.S. generals were welcomed by PKK-affiliated leaders, with PKK flags on the scene where Turkey's airstrike had hit earlier on.

The spokesman said he did not see those pictures and added that he "would strongly call into question, with all due respect, that senior military leaders of the U.S. were somehow glad-handing or shaking hands with PKK leaders." He stressed that the PKK is regarded as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

About 70 PKK terrorists and militants of the YPG were killed in Iraq's Sinjar and northern Syria in Turkish counterterror operations, military sources said Tuesday.

The U.S. later issued a statement expressing "serious concern" regarding Turkey's counterterror operations in the region, implying the U.S.'s unease over the death of YPG terrorists, saying, "The airstrikes led to the unfortunate loss of lives in our partner forces in the fight against ISIS [Daesh], including Kurdish peshmerga."

Col. John Dorrian, the spokesman for the coalition, complained about the fashion of the airstrikes conducted by the Turkish military in Syria and Iraq on Tuesday, saying, "Their airstrikes didn't provide adequate time and coordination to assure that [it was] the PKK who had been struck."

Ankara considers the YPG, which supposedly fights Daesh in Syria and Iraq with the backing of the U.S. and allies, a terrorist group affiliated with the PKK. As a result, the U.S.'s support for the YPG has soured relations between Ankara and Washington.

Despite the previous U.S. administration's insistence on not recognizing any direct links between the PKK and the YPG and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter confirmed the link between YPG/PYD and the PKK while testifying before a Senate panel at the U.S. Congress in April 2016.

Salih Muslim, the current chairman of the PYD, has also implicitly accepted that there were hundreds of PKK militants in the ranks of the YPG.


Serhat Erkmen, director of the Middle East and Africa Research Center at the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, said, "Turkey's cross-border operation takes on meaning when different aspects of security are considered and not only military requirements."

Explaining Turkey's operations in Syria and Iraq, Erkmen said: "Turkish security forces have been seizing weapons and ammunition that the PKK obtained from Iraq and Syria for a long time. And it has been proven that infiltration has been allowed to take place especially in those sections of the Turkish-Syrian border that are controlled by the YPG."

The YPG's link to the PKK, which carries out attacks in Turkey, has troubled Ankara. Despite the U.S. administration's stance toward the PYD, U.S. Ambassador to Ankara John Bass expressed a different attitude. "It is in the interest of our nation that Turkey is strong, peaceful, comfortable, prosperous and democratic," he said.

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