The Turkish defense minister says he has urged his American counterpart to stop supporting the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militant group and to remove the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the US-led coalition purportedly fighting the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in Syria.
Nurettin Canikli made the remarks during a televised presser broadcast live from the Belgian capital Brussels on Thursday, saying he had told Jim Mattis that Washington’s support for YPG militants in Syria had reportedly helped other Kurdish militants in Turkey “to grow and strengthen” and pose an “existential” threat to the Anatolian country.
The Turkish defense minister met Mattis on the sidelines of a meeting of the NATO defense ministers in Brussels a day earlier.
Regarded by Ankara as a terrorist organization and the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the YPG forms the largest part of the SDF, a US-backed anti-Damascus militant group composed of mainly Kurdish forces.
The Turkish government launched a full-scale military offensive, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, in Syria’s Afrin region last month in a bid to eliminate the YPG.
Canikli further said that he had presented documents to Mattis proving “organic” links between the YPG and other Kurdish militants in Turkey.
Meanwhile, Washington called on Ankara to remain focused on fighting Daesh, according to a statement released by the Pentagon on Thursday.
“[Mattis] called for a renewed focus on the campaign to defeat” the Daesh outfit “and to preventing any vestige of the terrorist organization from reconstituting in Syria,” the statement said.
Turkey’s military intervention against US-backed YPG militants has already sparked a festering row between the two NATO allies.
Later on Thursday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Turkey on a two-day trip in an attempt to ease tensions with Ankara that have reached fresh heights.
The Syrian government has already denounced the “brutal Turkish aggression” against Afrin, rejecting Ankara’s claim about having informed Damascus of the operation.
Operation Olive Branch in Afrin is Turkey’s second major military intervention in Syria during the unprecedented foreign-backed militancy that broke out in the Arab country in 2011.
In August 2016, Turkey began a unilateral military intervention in northern Syria, code-named Operation Euphrates Shield, sending tanks and warplanes across the border. Ankara claimed that its military campaign was aimed at pushing Daesh from Turkey’s border with Syria and stopping the advance of Kurdish forces, who were themselves fighting Daesh.
Turkey ended its campaign in northern Syria in March 2017, but at the time did not rule out the possibility of yet another act of military offensive inside the Arab country.