Turkey rejects truce with Kurds, lashes out at US over ‘unacceptable’ comments

A Turkish army tank drives towards to the border in Karkamis on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern Gaziantep province, Turkey, August 25, 2016. © Umit Bektas
Ankara has summoned the US ambassador to Turkey to explain Washington’s “unacceptable” comments about Turkey’s anti-ISIS operation in Syria, rejecting any talk of a ceasefire with the US-backed Kurdish militia and vowing to “eliminate all threats.”

Turkish forces crossed into Syria on August 24, targeting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) positions along the border. As IS fighters melted away, however, Turkish troops involved in ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’ clashed with the Kurdish YPG militia, part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Washington has since called on Turkey to refrain from targeting the Kurds, with the State Department spokesman John Kirby saying this was “not helping us degrade and destroy” IS, while Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the reports of clashes were “a source of deep concern.”

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter also called on Turkey to “stay focused on the fight against IS and not to engage the SDF.”

Turkey’s reaction to Washington’s criticism was to summon US Ambassador John Bass to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and express Ankara’s official displeasure.  During the meeting it was stressed that “such statements are unacceptable and do not correspond to the relations with the alliance,” said Turkish MFA spokesman Tanju Bilgiç, according to the newspaper Hurriyet.

On Wednesday, Turkish officials rejected reports by US Central Command officials of a “ceasefire” with the Kurdish militia.

“We do not accept in any circumstances a ‘compromise or a ceasefire reached between Turkey and Kurdish elements’,” Minister for EU Affairs Omer Celik said, as quoted by Al-Masdar News. “The Turkish republic is a sovereign, legitimate state. You cannot say it has reached a deal with terrorists.”

Prime Minister Binali Yildrim said that ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’ will continue, adding that Kurdish militias – the PKK, PYD and the YPG – “are all the same and hurt Turkey.” While the US has accepted Turkey’s designation of the PKK as a terrorist organization, Washington has resisted extending the designation to other Kurdish militias based in Syria and Iraq, while Ankara has maintained there is no distinction between them.

“Operations will continue until all threats to Turkish citizens have been eliminated,” Yildrim said. “We are determined in our stance.”

The government in Damascus has condemned the Turkish incursion as a violation of Syrian sovereignty. Accompanying the Turkish troops are some 1,500 militants of the “Free Syrian Army,” fighting against the internationally recognized government of President Bashar Assad.

Speaking with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday, Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov “expressed Moscow's concern over the actions by the Turkish army and Ankara-backed opposition units in northern Syria and their potential impact on peace efforts in the Syrian conflict," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, quoted by Sputnik.