U.S. will consider Turkey's concerns about PKK: Tillerson

Saul Bowman
January 18, 2018

Turkey said Wednesday it will take all kinds of measures to eliminate threat posed by Kurdish militia in western Syria and will not allow establishment of "army of terrorists".

USA officials had originally described it as a "Border Security Force" that would guard the perimeter of the self-proclaimed Kurdish enclave taking shape in northeastern Syria.

The Afrin district has been a topic of debate recently, especially after the U.S. announced its intention to arm Kurdish border guards on the Syrian-Turkish border, which merited a reaction from Ankara.

Military convoys have moved toward the border with Afrin this week.

Alluding to "a possible military operation into" Kurdish-controlled northern Syria, the foreign minister pointed out that Turkey will continue to fight against the USA -allied People's Protection Units (YPG/YPJ).

The YPG is in turn the lead component of the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which was created in 2015 to fight the Islamic State and now controls northeast Syria.

Listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the USA, and the European Union, the PKK has waged a terror campaign against Turkey for more than 30 years, killing almost 40,000 people. The US views the YPG as a highly effective fighting force against ISIL.

Fighters from the SDF.

The United States on Wednesday signaled an open-ended military presence in Syria as part of a broader strategy to prevent Islamic State's resurgence, pave the way diplomatically for the eventual departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and curtail Iran's influence.

The plan has angered Turkey, which has long threatened military action against the US-backed SDF in Afrin and other areas in northern Syria.

The speech represents the most comprehensive case Tillerson has ever made for a lasting USA military presence in the war-torn country and marks a departure from language drafted between the U.S. and Russian officials in Vietnam in November.

Syria, Iran and Russian Federation have also come out against the planned border force, while UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday: "If Syrians could solve their own problems, it would be much better". "The training is created to enhance security for displaced persons returning to their devastated communities", Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said in a written statement. "These forces will augment local security in liberated areas and protect local populations", the statement said, referring to ISIS by its Arabic acronym.

News broke on Saturday that the USA was helping the SDF build a new "border security force". Turkey's security concerns are legitimate.

On Monday, Erdogan vowed to crush the border force and called on North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to take a stand against the United States, a fellow ally.

The United States heads an global coalition that provided air support and special forces troops to aid the SDF in pushing IS out of its strongholds in northern and eastern Syria a year ago, including its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa.

Russia, Turkey and Iran have declared de-escalation zones in rebels-held Idlib in efforts to make peace in Syria, but the Syrian troops have renewed air and ground offensives against the rebels to retake lost towns and villages.

The US military now has about 2,000 troops in Syria working with a local force made up primarily of Syrian Kurds. They claim they have no desire for independence.

France has taken a hardline stance on the return of the ISIS members, saying that they should remain in Kurdish hands and that their cases can be handled by the Syrian Kurds, on the provision that they are given a fair trial.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a meeting in Canada on Tuesday that the establishment of the border force could "seriously threaten our relations and we may enter an irreversible course".

"The Turkish regime. has become a threat to any solution to the Syrian crisis", it added.

In another sign that the USA will continue to back SDF controlled areas, Tillerson also said that Washington would not support reconstruction in Syria in areas under Assad's control.

Recounting what went wrong in Iraq, Tillerson said, "We can not allow history to repeat itself in Syria.

Turkey will not dare challenge Russia's resolve to maintain Syria's sovereignty over the entire Syrian geography".

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