ISTANBUL – Turkey’s president slammed a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militant group Sunday and said he’ll clear his country’s border with Syria of “terrorists.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a rally in the central province of Karaman his country would not allow “terror nests” near its border, referring to areas held by the People’s Protection Units or YPG in northern Syria.
Turkey considers the YPG an extension of a Kurdish insurgency within its own borders, and launched an operation in August 2016 to clear part of its border of their and the Islamic State group’s presence.
Erdogan announced an expanded list of areas to be cleared. “We will clean Afrin of terrorists, we will clean Manbij of terrorists. We will clean Tel Abyad, Ras al-Ayn and Qamishli of terrorists,” he said.
Turkey has a military presence in the western Syrian province of Idlib as part of a de-escalation agreement struck with Russia and Iran. The province borders YPG-controlled Afrin and Turkey has threatened to attack the group there.
Erdogan has frequently expressed frustration with the Syrian Kurdish militant group’s presence at Turkey’s border. But it’s rare that he mentions Qamishli, a town further east controlled by both the Syrian Kurds and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.
Turkish officials regularly criticize the U.S. for backing and arming Syrian Kurds in combatting IS, a sticky issue in already tense bilateral relations.
Last month, Turkey’s foreign minister said President Donald Trump promised to stop arming the militant group but the Pentagon said it was reviewing the process, stopping short of announcing a halt to weapons transfers.
Erdogan chided the NATO member’s allies, saying they “will really be our allies when they stop working with structures we consider terror organizations in Syria.”
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