US ‘needs to stop supporting terrorists’ to avoid possible clash with Turkey in Syria – Deputy PM
If Washington wants to avoid direct confrontation with Turkey in northern Syria, it “should stop supporting terrorists,” the country's deputy prime minister told Turkish TV channel, A Haber.
“Those who support the terrorist organization will become a target in this battle,” Bekir Bozdag said. “The United States needs to review its soldiers and elements giving support to terrorists on the ground in a way to avoid a confrontation with Turkey.”
It comes as Turkish operation dubbed 'Olive Branch' in the Kurdish-dominated Afrin enters its sixth day. The campaign followed an announcement by the US-led coalition to create a thousands-strong Border Security Force with Kurdish fighters, including from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) at its core.
Ankara insists that the YPG is linked to the PKK. The latter is designated as a terrorist group in Turkey, which has been fighting it for decades.
Bozdag’s statement follows a phone call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart Donald Trump. During the conversation the latter raised concerns that Ankara’s ongoing military operation in Syria, if not scaled down, may result in a direct clash between the two major NATO allies.
Trump “urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces,” according to the White House readout of the conversation. The US leader also called upon Ankara to de-escalate and “limit its military actions” in order to “avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees.”
However, Erdogan announced the extension of the military campaign to the east.
“With the Olive Branch operation, we have once again thwarted the game of those sneaky forces whose interests in the region are different,” Erdogan said. “Starting in Manbij, we will continue to thwart their game.”
READ MORE: 'Small possibility’ that US & Ankara will come face-to-face in Manbij – Turkish deputy PM
Manbij is some 100km from Afrin and is held by US-backed Kurdish militia, raising fears of a direct clash between Ankara and Washington.
Disagreements over the status and future of Syria's Kurds have strained relations between Ankara and Washington.
The Turkish government has repeatedly slammed Washington for delivering military supplies to Kurds fighting in Syria. In December 2017, Hurriyet Daily News reported that Trump approved arms support to Syrian Kurds, including anti-tank, anti-aircraft and mortar weapons, due to be delivered in 2018.
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