BEIRUT: Turkey’s foreign minister assailed the United States on Monday, claiming that American forces in Syria are intentionally stalling the fight against the militant Islamic State (IS) group as an excuse not to cut ties with Syrian Kurdish militiamen as Ankara has demanded
Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Istanbul that US forces are leaving “pockets” with IS militants intact to justify continued cooperation with the Kurdish militia.
Speaking ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson later this week, Cavusoglu said Turkey’s ties with the US are at a make-or-break stage and that Washington needs to take “concrete steps” to regain Turkey’s trust.
“Our relations are at a very critical stage,” Cavusoglu said. “Either we will improve ties or these ties will totally break down.”
Ankara is riled over Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG the top US ally in the fight against IS.
Turkey considers the YPG a “terrorist” group linked to Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey’s own borders.
Turkey’s military launched a cross-border operation into the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northern Syria to rout the YPG from the region.
Ankara has also threatened to expand its offensive to the YPG-held town of Manbij, east of Afrin, where the US has a military presence, setting the scene for a potential showdown between the two Nato allies that back different sides in Syria’s complex and multi-layered civil war.
But the operations in Afrin have been slow-going. In more than three weeks of fighting, Turkey has managed to capture a handful of hilltops and villages. Some 10,000 Syrian opposition fighters paid, trained, and equipped by Turkey are also participating in the campaign. Turkey has lost 31 soldiers in the campaign, according to its military.
The US is not militarily invested in Afrin.
Sipan Hemo, commander of the YPG, conceded that Turkey’s operation had taken “some strategic points” in the Afrin areas, but said it was not considered “a major advance”.