Turkey’s Foreign Ministry slammed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for saying that US wants to ensure “the Turks don’t slaughter the Kurds”.
The statement by Pompeo, given in an interview with the Newsmax media outlet, was aimed at assuring protection for the allies of the US as it plans to withdraw its forces from northeastern Syria.
A statement released by Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Pompeo’s remarks came about as the result of “an unsettling lack of information” that draws a parallel between the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) with Syria’s Kurdish population.
Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group which is simply an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged an armed insurrection in Turkey for decades. The PKK is outlawed, and deemed a terrorist organization by both US and Turkey as well as the European Union.
Unlike Turkey, the US sees the YPG as a separate organization from the PKK.
Turkey has threatened a new military offensive into northern Syria in order to dislodge the YPG from a strip stretching across its southern borders.
According to the interview given by Pompeo to the Newsmax media outlet “ensuring that the Turks don’t slaughter the Kurds” was part “of the American mission aims”.
US support to the YPG has caused friction between Washington and Ankara.
After the emergence of Islamic State (IS or ISIL) as a global threat in 2014, Obama vowed to eradicate ISIL and thus the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) was formed by the US-led coalition to help coordinate the fight against ISIL.
Initially remaining unnamed, the operation was dubbed “Inherent Resolve” by the US and the name was announced by a news release from US Central Command (CENTCOM).
The first phase of the then unnamed military operation comprised of airstrikes to strategic targets where as the second phase required ground troops to liberate ground occupied by ISIL. To achieve this aim the CJTF trained and armed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the bulk of whose forces are comprised of YPG members.
This inclusion of the YPG in the fight against ISIL tested the relations between two NATO allies.
Turkish military incursions into northern Syria further complicated the testy relations between the two nations, with the possibility of a clash with American troops deployed in the area coming to the fore.
Turkey, concerned over the security of its southern borders, carved de facto buffer zones out of Syria, comprising of 3,460-square-kilometre area from the Northern Aleppo district of Syria, in two cross-border military offensives since mid-2016.
In the summer of 2016, Turkey deployed its special forces, military vehicles and warplanes along with Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants to dislodge Islamic State fighters from its border and curb the westward advance of the YPG in a military operation dubbed “Euphrates Shield”.
As operation unfolded, Turkey secured the border town of Jarablus on the Euphrates river and then moved south to al-Bab to neutralize the city which had become an Islamic State stronghold.
There were 71 Turkish soldiers and 614 rebel fighters killed in the operation whereas 3,522 Islamic State fighters were neutralized according to the figures given by the Turkish Armed Forces.
The SDF claims they have lost more than 131 of their fighters due to clashes with rebels and Turkish Special Forces deployed in the operation.
The completion of Euphrates Shield in early 2017 marked the taking over of roughly 2000 square kilometers of land (according to the Free Syrian Army sources) from Islamic State fighters. Turkey proceeded to set up local systems of governance in the swathe of land under its control.
In January 2018 Turkey initiated the cross-border operation dubbed “Olive Branch” to eliminate the YPG’s control over the Afrin district of Syria. Turkish Special Forces along with FSA fighters encircled the district and reached the outskirts of the city of Afrin by the 10th of March.
On March 18 Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the total take-over of the city by the Operation Olive Branch Forces.
According to the figures given by Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), 85 Turkish troops along with 594 rebel fighters were killed during the operation whereas the YPG lost 1582 fighters.
SOHR also contends that two-thirds of the Afrin’s population have fled the city due to the operation and remainder reportedly had their properties seized, looted and destroyed according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Systems of local governance were established by Turkey in the area similar to the area controlled after the Operation Euphrates Shield.