The leader of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is no different to the slain leader of the Islamic State (ISIS), Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.
Speaking in a joint press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Erdogan said that the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the SDF commander Mazloum Kobani were the same in the eyes of Turkey.
“Unfortunately, some of our strategic partners are involved and cooperating with leaders of terrorist groups. These relationships sadden us,” Erdogan said, referring to Mazloum’s planned visit to the United States (US).
Ankara regards Syria’s SDF and its militia force, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), as extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a separatist armed group inside Turkey.
However, the US backs the Kurdish groups in Syria where they fought together against ISIS and defeated the territorial caliphate in March this year.
Last week, following al-Baghdadi’s death during a US raid against him, Erdogan signaled that Turkey was prepared to carry out a similar operation against the Ankara-designated “terrorist leader” Kobani.
Earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter that he had called Kobani and that the SDF commander was appreciating what he had done, despite harsh public criticism for his order to withdraw the US troops from the region — a move that allegedly gave the green light for Turkey to launch its October 9 military operation into northern Syria. Turkey’s assault was against the Mazloum’s YPG.
Erdogan put an end to the offensive on October 22, after he agreed with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the Kurds’ withdrawal from a planned “safe zone”.
In the Budapest visit, Erdogan accused both the US and Russia of failing to fulfill their part of a deal for Kurdish removal from the safe zone.
“Neither the US, within the 120 hours, nor Russia within the 150 hours, were able to get the terrorists to leave the region,” Erdogan said.
The Turkish president added that he would raise the Kurdish pull-out issue with Trump in his planned official visit to Washington next week and later with Putin.
On Monday, some senior Turkish officials argued that Erdogan could call off his US visit because of the two resolutions passed by the U.S. Congress.
Passed on October 29, the resolutions called on Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey and its officials over its recent Syria offensive and to officially recognize the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 as genocide.
In Hungary, Erdogan also reiterated his frequent threat to open the border for Syrian refugees looking to travel to Europe unless the EU provides Turkey with the rest of the funds promised under a refugee deal in 2016.
“Naturally, we will continue to host our guests whether or not we get the EU support. But if there is no solution, we have to open our gates. If we open our gates, everyone knows where they would go,” Erdogan argued.
Erdogan’s Turkey plans to send up to 2 million, out of 3.6 million, Syrian refugees living in the country back to the safe zone.
While addressing the reporters, Hungary’s Orban pledged his support for Erdogan’s plans for the zone.
“Turkey can count on our support within the best of our abilities,” Orban said.
In contrast to other leaders of the European Union (EU) who slammed Turkey’s latest military incursion into northern Syria, Orban praised it and also delayed a joint EU statement condemning it.