Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has just reshuffled the top leadership in the military and has spoken of military action against Kurdish fighters in Syria that could set back the progress of the U.S.-led battle against Islamic State.
Kurdish militia are being armed and supplied by the US, and they are spearheading an assault against the Syrian stronghold Raqqa, which was the so-called caliphate of the Islamic State. But with the battle not yet over, this latest move by Erdogan complicates an already delicate US – Turkish alliance that has been tested recently.
The U.S. backing for the Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria has infuriated Turkey, which views them as the Kurdish PKK within their own borders as a terrorist organization. The Turks believe that the YPG, armed by the US as a security threat due to a decades-old insurgency with PKK inside Turkey.
There have been regular exchanges of rocket and artillery fire in recent weeks between Turkish forces and YPG fighters who control part of Syria’s northwestern border.
“We will not leave the separatist organization in peace in both Iraq and Syria,” Erdogan said in a speech on Saturday in the eastern town of Malatya, referring to the YPG in Syria and PKK bases in Iraq. “We know that if we do not drain the swamp, we cannot get rid of flies.”
The YPG denies Turkish allegations of links with Kurdish militants inside Turkey, saying it is only interested in self-rule in Syria and warning that any Turkish assault will draw its fighters away from the battle against Islamic State which they are waging in an alliance with local Arab forces.
Erdogan’s comments in a semi-swipe at US President Trump follow the appointment of three new leaders of Turkey’s army, air force and navy just a week ago – moves which may be aimed at preparing for any campaign against the YPG militia.
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