The US has offered a total of $12 million as a reward for information on three leaders of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a move given a guarded welcome by Turkey yesterday.
Washington pledged up to $5 million for information which could lead to the arrest of PKK military commander Murat Karayilan, and lesser rewards for two other leaders of the group which has waged an insurgency against Turkey for 34 years; attacks by the PKK since 1984 that have caused the deaths of some 40,000 people.
The US Embassy in Turkey broke the news via Twitter on Tuesday, with a statement of US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer following his visit to Ankara.
“The US values its counterterrorism cooperation with our NATO Ally Turkey. As part of my visit, I am pleased to announce that the @StateDept @Rewards4Justice program is targeting three senior members of the terrorist organization #PKK,” the Turkish statement read.
Turkey and the US have been at odds over the status of Kurdish militias in the north of Syria which Washington has backed in the fight against Daesh. The militias are primarily made up of Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), a group Turkey considers an offshoot of the PKK.
Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said the US rewards offer was a positive but “very, very late” step, and urged Washington to adopt the same policy to the YPG as it did to the PKK.
“It is not possible for us to accept putting a bounty on PKK leaders on the one hand, and sending trucks of tools, weapons and ammunition to the YPG on the other,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Turkey’s foreign ministry also said it expected the Trump Administration to support the announcement with concrete action in Syria and Iraq “against the PKK and its extensions”.
However, US special envoy to Syria, Ambassador James Jeffrey reiterated yesterday that Washington does not see the YPG as a terror organisation.
“Our position on PKK is clear, but we do not classify YPG as a terror organisation. We never did,” he told reporters, but added that the US “understands Turkey’s concerns”
“…We are acting very, very carefully. We inform Turkey about what we do and why we do it,” he added. “We give them only light weapons. That’s one reason why they have not been as successful recently against Daesh as they have been in the past. They do not have tanks, they do not have artillery, we do not give them such heavy weapons.”
Since January, Turkey has been undertaking an air and ground offensive in Syria as part of “Operation Olive Branch” against the YPG. After securing Afrin in March, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed a desire to move towards Manbij where the US has 2,000 special forces troops, straining relations with the Washington. However the NATO allies seemed to have come to a compromise in June, with an announcement that military patrols would be conducted together in a bid to ease tensions.
Last week, US and Turkish troops began joint patrols in northern Syria’s Manbij area after months of delay, and US President Donald Trump and Erdogan are scheduled to meet this weekend at a summit in Paris.
However, tensions rose to the fore again last week in the wake of a renewed attack by the Turkish military on targets in the north of Syria, after Erdogan vowed to remove YPG fighters east of the Euphrates; the move was condemned by the US-led Combined Joint Task Force.