Ankara has protested a statement by Washington classifying Turkey along with the “terrorist organization” Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria, while also warning the Syrian Kurdish militia of a “severe response” if they advance toward Azaz.
“We have received Kirby’s statements, lumping its ally Turkey and a terrorist organization together, with astonishment,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç said Feb. 15.
Bilgiç was referring to comments from U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby, who has urged both Turkey and the Syrian Kurds to focus on tackling the “common threat” of militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who control large parts of Syria.
Kirby said Washington was urging Kurdish forces and their allies “not to take advantage of a confused situation by seizing new territory” and calling on Turkey to cease its strikes.
Turkey “strongly protested” Kirby’s statement and conveyed its unease to U.S. officials, Bilgiç said, vowing Turkey would not seek permission to fight against “any terrorist organizations.”
The spokesperson also confirmed that the Turkish Armed Forces shelled positions of the military wing of PYD, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), in northern Syria for a third straight day on Feb. 15, saying the move was in retaliation against alleged aggression by the YPG.
“As a result of artillery fire and harassment from Syria toward our country since Saturday [Feb. 13], we have operated [in accordance with] our rules of engagement. On Saturday, Sunday and today, we have responded within the framework of our rules of engagement with retaliation in kind,” he said.
“Today, a response to an attack against a border outpost in the [southern] Hatay region was given retaliation in kind,” Bilgiç said.
The YPG has denied firing on Turkey.
Turkey’s army shelled targets of the YPG, which Ankara regards as a terrorist organization and the extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in northern Syria over the weekend, after the group seized an air base north of Aleppo, further complicating the conflict on NATO-member Turkey’s southern border.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has, meanwhile, warned the YPG of a “severe response” if they advance, as he pledged that his government would not allow the rebel-controlled Syrian border town of Azaz to fall to the YPG.
“We will not let Azaz fall,” Davutoğlu was quoted as saying on Feb. 15 by private NTV television on his plane en route to Ukraine.
“The YPG will not be able to cross to the west of the Euphrates [river] and east of Afrin,” Davutoğlu said.
“Currently YPG elements were forced out of the Azaz neighborhood. If they come closer to Azaz, they will receive the most severe response,” he said.
“The necessary intervention will be made [by Turkey] against the YPG when it is required,” he added, as he warned the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed Kurdish-Arab militia alliance in which the YPG plays a key role, to withdraw from ex-military air base at Menagh in northern Syria.
“They will withdraw from the airport… If not, the airport will be rendered unusable,” he said, without elaborating, however issuing a veiled threat of possible Turkish military action if they failed to do so.
At a joint press conference his Ukrainian counterpart in Kyiv, Davutoğlu said Turkey did not have any security forces in Syria, confirming earlier comments by Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz.