US spokesman disavows photos showing military officials and YPG militants

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
Published 27.04.2017 13:49

The deputy spokesman of the U.S. Department of State claimed that he has not seen pictures showing high-ranking U.S. military officials and PKK's Syrian affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG) militants taken during a joint inspection of areas in Sinjar, which were hit by Turkish airstrikes Tuesday.

Mark Toner, who is currently acting as the deputy spokesman of 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 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.

Toner 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.

Although the U.S. spokesman confirmed again its assessment of the PKK as terrorist organization, and although he added that the U.S. supported Turkey's efforts to protect its borders from PKK terrorism, questions about the U.S. attitude toward that organization's Syrian offshoots remain open. The U.S. continues to back the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is an umbrella organization also providing room for PKK affiliates.

The Turkish military had carried out airstrikes against the PKK and its affiliates in northern Iraq and Syria this week in order to prevent the group from smuggling fighters and weapons into Turkey.

Abdi Ferhad Şahin, one of the most wanted PKK terrorists, was seen Wednesday standing next to a U.S. commander in Syria's Karachok region, which was bombed in Turkish anti-terror operations against the PKK.

Turkey is concerned about the U.S.' relations with the YPG. With significant U.S. military support, the YPG was able to take over the strategic town of Manbij and impose the ideology of the PKK on its mostly Arab citizens. Despite U.S. vows to ensure the YPG withdraws to the east of the Euphrates, the terrorist group has tried to expand its zone of influence to other mostly Arab populations.

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