Istanbul, Turkey. In a rare show of raw emotion, Turkish leader Erdogan has lost patience with a US diplomat assigned by the Trump administration and demanded the removal of the State Department official from his country.
Turkey has declared to the United States it will not join in any military operations that include Kurdish fighters in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday, while vowing to strike the US-backed Kurds if they threaten Turkey’s security.
The Turkish foreign minister also demanded that a US envoy be removed for allegedly backing the Kurds, but the State Department said Brett McGurk has the “full support” of the Trump administration leading to a test of wills in whether Erogan will have McGurk bodily ejected from Turkey or simply refuse to negotiate with him.
Erdogan criticized the U.S. decision to ally with “terror organizations” for the long-awaited operation to capture Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State group. “We said we would not be in such an operation with you where you are an ally with terror organizations and so we said good luck,” Erdogan said.
Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria a terror organization and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a thirty years plus war against the Turkish state. According to the United Nations, at least 2,798 people, including state security personnel and Kurdish militants, have been killed in Turkey. The death toll includes nearly 400 civilians presently.
The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the Trump administration understands Turkey’s position against the YPG. “They did not say anything negative about this issue and treated it with understanding,” he said.
President Erdogan said he warned Trump that Turkey would combat YPG if the group posed any security threat. “We are already telling you in advance, our rules of engagement give us this authority, we will take such a step and we won’t discuss it or consult with anyone. Because we have no time to lose,” he said.
Referencing a cross-border offensive Turkey launched against ISIS and the YPG in Syria last year, Erdogan said “we won’t hesitate to launch similar operations if we see the need.”
Cavusoglu said Trump’s administration seems more understanding about Turkey’s security concerns. He went on to plead for the replacement of Brett McGurk, the U.S. presidential envoy for the global coalition against IS.
“This McGurk jerk is definitely supporting the PKK and YPG. It would be beneficial for this person to go, before we remove him ourselves” he said, accusing the diplomat of carrying on Obama-administration policies.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said McGurk has done “tremendous work” in coordinating and leading the international coalition against ISIS, and has the full support of the White House and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Reporters were unclear if Nauert really meant this, or was trying to limit US embarrassment at an Obama holdover screwing up an active conflict situation with stale policy application.
The US respects Turkish concerns about its “by, with, and through” approach to the Syrian Democratic Forces led by the YPG, and will continue consulting with Ankara as the focus on combating ISIS continues, Nauert said.
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