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Turkey slams US over PYD ties, calls for joint offensive on DAESH stronghold

MERVE AYDOĞAN @mgulaydogan
ANKARA
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Turkey slams US over PYD ties, calls for joint offensive on DAESH stronghold

Turkey described U.S. and PKK-affiliate PYD cooperation in Syria as wrong and called for a joint Turkey-US offensive to purge Syria of DAESH terrorists with an advance on its stronghold of Raqqa province in northern Syria

At the end of the Least Developed Countries Summit in Antalya, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu spoke to journalists late on Sunday and criticized the U.S. for cooperating with the Syrian PKK-affiliate Democratic Union Party (PYD). He said that joint military action between Turkey and the U.S. could help defeat DAESH in Syria by allowing an easy advance on Raqqa, DAESH's capital in Syria. Çavuşoğlu said: "[W]e could join forces with [the U.S.] since we have Special Forces and they do as well.

There is already advancement by opposition forces 98 kilometers into Afrin toward [Turkey]. We could easily advance on Raqqa after opening a new front on the Jarablous line and clear out the area toward the south and seal the Manbij pocket." Several photos recently appeared in the media showing U.S. special forces in support roles in a ground offensive wearing the insignias of the PYD's People's Protection Units (YPG) and Women's Protection Units (YPJ) militias. The incident has drawn reactions from Turkish government officials and social media users in Turkey, with some accusing the U.S. of a hypocritical stance toward Turkey, a fellow NATO ally, even though it recognizes the PKK as a terrorist organization.

Çavuşoğlu criticized U.S. support for the PYD and YPG, with the alleged aim of preventing Raqqa from being seized by Syrian regime forces, and he stressed that it was the "wrong move" to join forces with a terrorist group whose only aim, he asserted, was to split Syria.

Regarding the high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) that are due to arrive this month, Çavuşoğlu said that the U.S. is not fulfilling its promises and has fallen behind on the delivery of the HIMARS, which are now to arrive in August. "We are fully ready, and rather than fulfilling this pledge [the U.S.] goes and wears the YPG insignia. What [the U.S.] is doing is neither honest nor befitting of an ally. It is truly a double standard," he said. Çavuşoğlu continued, claiming there are some European Union states that provide support to the PKK, which he said they could benefit from and label others as "non-beneficial terrorist organizations."

Providing details on the meetings with European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans, Çavuşoğlu reiterated that it is impossible for Turkey to amend its counter-terrorism laws and that he had expressed Turkey's concerns regarding European Parliament President Martin Schulz and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's recent remarks on Turkey. He also said that he is to meet with experts from the EU and Turkey to brainstorm ideas for a road map for visa liberalization. "We have told [the EU], if you insist on taking the current stance then we will not sign the Readmission Agreement since it is interconnected with [visa liberalization]," Çavuşoğlu said.

Turkish-U.S. relations have gone south following a statement from U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby that the U.S. does not consider the Syrian PKK-affiliate PYD or its armed wing, the YPG, to be terrorist organizations. Kirby's statement was in response to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ultimatum to Washington to choose Turkey or the PYD as its ally.

Ankara has frequently voiced its concern over YPG activity along the Turkish border and has been rigid in its stance to not allow the PYD militant group to found any de facto Kurdish state in northern Syria. Turkey claims the PYD enjoys close connections with the PKK, including militant and ammunition support through underground tunnels.

The U.S. provided arms to the PYD in October, which drew heavy criticism from Ankara. The U.S. air force dropped 50 tons of arms and ammunition to the YPG in the northern Syrian province of Hasakah. The 112 pallets reportedly contained ammunition for M-16s and AK-47s.

According to a statement from the Syrian Local Coordination Committee in February, the U.S. sent two loads of ammunition to the YPG, and advisers were dispatched to the Tishrin Dam south of Kobani. Furthermore, 250 members of the SDF were stationed in the town of Sarrin in eastern Aleppo, the statement added.

In February, Toner refuted Ankara's claims that U.S. weapons were given to the PKK and added: "Equipment and various weaponry, while given to the quote-unquote 'good guys,' somehow, sometimes ends up in the hands of the quote-unquote 'bad guys.' "

Last week, U.S. General Joseph Votel visited Syria and met with SDF senior officials. A CENTCOM spokesman commented on the visit: "He met with U.S. military advisers working with Syrian Arab fighters, and with leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces."

Then he paid a surprise visit to Turkey on Monday and met with Yaşar Güler, deputy chief of the Turkish military, in order to discuss and test the waters for the joint Raqqa operation. Military sources indicate the Turkish military does not support the operation.
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