US President Donald Trump yesterday launched a verbal assault on Turkey, saying he “will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds” in the wake of the US withdrawal from Syria.
In the threatening tweet yesterday, Trump announced that the US was “starting the long overdue pull-out from Syria while hitting the little-remaining ISIS [Daesh] territorial caliphate hard”, highlighting the growing tension between Washington and Ankara over the fate of Kurdish militants stationed in Syria.
Trump is not known for diplomatic niceties, but even by his standard threatening to “devastate” a NATO ally will be seen as a new low in relations between the two countries. Unsurprisingly, the remarks triggered an angry response from Turkey.
“It is a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds with the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party]” tweeted Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After pointing out that the PKK is on the “US terrorists list [as is] its Syria branch PYD/YPG [Democratic Union Party/ People’s Protection Units]”, Kalin added: “Turkey fights against terrorists, not Kurds. We will protect Kurds and other Syrians against all terrorist threats.”
In a separate tweet addressing the US president, Kalin said: “Terrorists can’t be your partners & allies. Turkey expects the US to honor our strategic partnership and doesn’t want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda.” Highlighting the two countries’ polarised views regarding Kurdish militants, he added: “There is no difference between DAESH, PKK, PYD and YPG. We will continue to fight against them all.”
Trump’s remark appears to be a complete U-turn from his surprise announcement last month that the US would withdraw all remaining forces – numbering around 2000 – from Syria, upending US policy in the region. The announcement followed a conversation between Trump and Erdogan, in which the latter is believed to have been given a green light to launch a military operation against the Kurdish YPG in Syria. Erdogan reportedly gave a number of assurances to the US President that convinced him to pull his troops from Syria.
The announcement stunned everyone, including senior members of the White House and key US allies. High profile resignations followed in protest of the abrupt decision. When the decision was met with criticism, US officials tried to row back and undo the damage to the country’s reputation. Trump also seemed to have backtracked on his decision, later announcing that the US would leave Syria “over a period of time” and that it wants to protect the US-backed Kurdish fighters in the country.
Ankara meanwhile has been preparing an assault on the US-backed YPG. It has constantly protested against Washington’s arming of the group, which Turkey says has close links to a Kurdish militia that has been fighting an armed insurgency against the Turkish state for more than 30 years.