Öcalan posters in Raqqa should ring alarm bells in White House

THE EDITORIAL BOARD
ISTANBUL
Published

The liberation of Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of Daesh terrorists, by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) could have given Washington some breathing room against the backdrop of the mainstream media's battle against the White House and an ongoing investigation into the Trump administration's alleged ties with the Russian Federation. Meanwhile in Raqqa, a picture of Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was replaced with a poster of PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan by the People's Protection Units (YPG) forces – the main component of the SDF. The latest scandal in northern Syria should ring alarm bells in the White House, because it establishes that the administration was misled by senior U.S. officials about the true nature of the YPG's relationship with the PKK.

The public display of a known terrorist's images by YPG militants, which, the U.S. claimed had no ties to the PKK, caused an uproar. Former U.S. Ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford yesterday warned that the international coalition failed to understand that "the picture is not the problem [but] simply a symbol of the problem." In response, U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert publicly criticized YPG militants for celebrating the liberation of Raqqa with posters of Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK's imprisoned founder and leader. "The PKK is a designated foreign terrorist organization and Öcalan is in prison in Turkey for acts of terrorism as part of the PKK," she noted in a written statement. "He does not merit veneration." The U.S. Embassy in Ankara on Saturday echoed the same sentiments by issuing a written statement on Twitter. The public criticism of YPG militants by U.S. officials, however, will not change the fact that the terrorists have been armed and trained by a NATO ally that claims to fight terrorism around the globe.

The most recent developments in Raqqa established beyond doubt that Turkey's repeated warnings to the international coalition about the links between the PKK in Turkey and the Democratic Union Party (PYD)-YPG in northern Syria were indeed warranted. Under the circumstances, the U.S. government must engage in a frank discussion about the reasons why Brett McGurk and the rest of Barack Obama's Syria team misled President Donald Trump and strained Turkey-U.S. relations. This example should lead President Trump to question what else he has been lied about since entering the White House last year. After all, what will stop U.S. officials from lying to President Trump on other issues if they are not held accountable for their actions in northern Syria?

As a first step, President Trump must sack Brett McGurk, the YPG's handler in Washington, and take necessary steps to revise his administration's Syria and counterterrorism policy, which was based on misleading information. Moreover, the United States must identify YPG militants and sympathizers with PKK links and prevent them from exerting influence over the future of Raqqa and the rest of northern Syria. The Turkish government, as a U.S. ally, should share information with Washington about known PKK operatives within the YPG forces.

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