US bounty on PKK leaders long overdue, former US official says

MUSTAFA KIRIKÇIOĞLU @MKirikcioglu
ANKARA
Published 11.11.2018 21:13

Washington's decision to put a $12-million bounty on members of the PKK terrorist organization's leadership was "long overdue" and aims to appease Ankara's objections, a former U.S. official has said.

Matthew Bryza, a former ambassador and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, told Daily Sabah in an interview that the decision was an attempt to balance U.S. Central Command's (CENTCOM) cooperation with the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), which has been sharply criticized by Ankara.

The U.S. State Department's Rewards for Justice Program on Tuesday authorized up to $12 million in rewards for information leading to the identification or location of the senior members of the PKK, which has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people over a 30-year-long terror campaign against the Turkish state.

"The Manbij plan is progressing slowly due to CENTCOM's reluctance, and it has also carried out a joint patrol with the YPG in northern Syria. However, Turkey's threats on carrying out an operation to the east of the Euphrates pushed the U.S. military to balance the situation," Bryza said.

Turkey and the U.S. agreed on a road map for Manbij in June that foresaw the expulsion of the YPG and its affiliates from the city. However, six months have passed since the agreement and the YPG continues to be present in the city.

The former U.S. official stressed that a debate has been going on concerning Turkey strategy within the U.S. military factions CENTCOM, which is in charge of military actions in Middle East, and the European Command (EUCOM) that is responsible for military relations with Turkey.

"EUCOM wants to be as close to Turkey as possible, while CENTCOM is suspicious of Turkey. Patterns of the latter's cooperation with the YPG resulted from what it believes that Turkey was not eager to contribute to the fight against Daesh, but Turkey was willing to fight," Bryza said.

Since 2014, the U.S. has provided military support for the YPG terrorist organization, under the pretext of fighting Daesh. It has facilitated the groups' efforts to form an autonomous region, a major sticking point in U.S.-Turkey relations. The U.S. has provided military training and truckloads of weapons despite Ankara's security concerns and warnings. After Washington dragged its feet on taking joint action with Turkey, Ankara launched Operation Euphrates Shield with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), liberating more than 2,000 square kilometers of area from Daesh in northern Syria.

He added that some commanders in CENTCOM are still vexed by the Turkish Parliament voting against assistance to the U.S. in invading Iraq in 2003.

On March 1, 2003, a motion to allow the Turkish military to participate in the U.S-led coalition's invasion of Iraq, along with permission for foreign troops to be stationed in Turkey for this purpose, was overruled by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM) by a tight margin.

Bryza said that the solution to the pastor Andrew Brunson case, which was an "artificial barrier" between two NATO allies' ties, paved the way for relations to slowly progress.

"The Brunson issue was an obstacle, and since the obstacle was removed, other things can be worked on again. I don't think [Fetullah] Gülen will be extradited soon, but there are other things that the U.S. government can do such as investigating his organization and maybe work with Turkey to develop a legal case that would end up in court," he said.

Bryza also emphasized that Turkey's approach handling the Khashoggi case, which prevented Saudi Arabia from "sweeping the case under the rug," made Washington happy and developed Ankara's reputation in Washington.

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