ANKARA: Turkey on Monday vowed to keep up the fight against a US-backed Kurdish militia it views as terrorists after Donald Trump warned of economic devastation if Ankara attacks Kurdish forces as American troops withdraw.
Trump’s threat came after Ankara repeatedly threatened a new cross-border operation against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which have working closely with the United States in the war on Islamic State extremists.
US support to the YPG has been a major source of tension between the Nato allies.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said there was “no difference” between IS and the YPG.
“We will continue to fight against them all,” he said.
Trump on Sunday warned the US would “devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds”.
“Mr @realDonaldTrump Terrorists can’t be your partners & allies. Turkey expects the US to honour our strategic partnership and doesn’t want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda,” Kalin said in a tweet to the US president.
Kalin said on Twitter that it was “a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds with the PKK”, saying that Turkey fought against terrorists not Syrian Kurds.
While there have been tensions over American training of the YPG under the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, there appeared to be some improvement on the issue after Trump said last month 2,000 American troops would withdraw from Syria.
Ankara welcomed the pullout decision after Erdogan told Trump in a phone call that Turkey could finish off the last remnants of IS.
Turkey views the YPG as a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.
Fahrettin Altun, the communications director at the Turkish presidency, said Monday that Turkey’s fight against terrorism would continue “with determination”, adding that Turkey was “not an enemy of the Kurds”.
“Whether the source of terrorism is ideological, religious or ethnic, it does not matter. Terror is terror,” he said on Twitter.
There has been growing friction between Turkey and the US over the fate of the YPG, especially after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this month said Washington would ensure Turkey would not “slaughter” Kurds.
And before a visit to Ankara last week, White House National Security adviser John Bolton said the US retreat was conditional on the safety of the Kurdish fighters, provoking angry retorts from Turkish officials.
But Pompeo on Saturday said he was “optimistic” a way could be found to protect Syrian Kurds while allowing Turks to “defend their country from terrorists”.
The threat of new sanctions hit the Turkish lira which weakened early Monday to reach over 5.5 to the US dollar, a loss of over 1.1% in value on the day.
Washington previously hit Ankara with sanctions last August over the detention of an American pastor in Turkey.
The lira plunged to seven dollars at the height of tensions.
But to Turkey’s relief, the US sanctions were later lifted after Pastor Andrew Brunson was released by a Turkish court in October.
‘Radical solution’ in Idlib
Turkey previously launched military offensives in northern Syria in 2016 and 2018 respectively against IS and the YPG. In early 2018, Syrian rebels backed by Turkish military forces captured the YPG’s northwestern enclave of Afrin.
Ankara, which supports Syrian opposition fighters, is also involved in the last rebel bastion of Idlib, where Turkey has agreed to a buffer zone deal with Damascus ally Russia.
But the deal has not stopped an assault by jihadists in Syria. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by jihadists from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, last week extended its administrative control over the whole of the Idlib region.
Syria’s National Coalition, the leading opposition body, on Sunday called for a “radical solution” to put “an end to its (HTS) presence in Idlib”.