Turkey’s Erdoğan threatens US forces in Syria with ‘Ottoman slap’

“The US’s decision to give more financial support to Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will affect Turkey’s decisions,” said Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday ahead of a visit this week by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Erdoğan has also slammed remarks of Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk, the top US commander in the anti-ISIL coalition, who said if Turkey hits Manbij it would face a sharp response. “Those who say they will give a sharp response have not been hit by the Ottoman slap,” Erdoğan said.

In his speech to the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party’s parliamentary group in capital Ankara, Erdoğan remarks came after Pentagon requested an extra $300 million to train and equip the SDF, predominantly made up of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), while demanding nearly as much to build a “border security force” with the SDF in Syria.

It is wrong to say that NATO equals the US, Erdoğan has continued by pointing out that all countries in the alliance are equals to the US and called on the US to abide by its NATO obligations. “What kind of NATO membership is this? What kind of NATO alliance is this?” he asked. “As president of Turkey, I say NATO is not equal to the US, all countries in the alliance are equals to the US.”

American support for the PYD/PKK has long vexed Ankara, as Washington views the PYD/PKK-led SDF as a “reliable partner” in its fight against ISIL and continues to provide it with arms and equipment in the face of strong objections by Turkey. Erdoğan has also stated that Turkish security forces were taking utmost care in avoiding harm to civilians during “Operation Olive Branch.”

TURKISH PM: TURKEY WON’T LET A STATE BE FOUNDED ALONG ITS BORDER

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has also stated on Tuesday that any attempts to found a state along Turkey’s borders will end in failure. “Turkey will eliminate all threats along its borders wherever they come from,” Yıldırım told the ruling AKP Provincial Congress in the eastern Erzincan province. “Those who want to found a state along our borders will be disappointed,” he said.

Referring to the outlawed PYD/PKK, the focus of the current Turkish-led operation in Afrin, northwestern Syria, along Turkey’s borders, Yıldırım called on the US “to cut its support to those murderers and stop giving them weapons.”

“This is a dark, dead-end-street. You still have time to correct your mistake,” he said and told ruling party members that Turkey would defend its territories “at all costs.” “We have no designs on anyone’s territory, but we will not bow to anyone’s tyranny,” said Yıldırım.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Hakan Çavuşoğlu criticized plans by the US military on Monday, saying they “will bring relations between the two countries to a near breaking level.”

According to its budget proposal for 2019, the Pentagon is seeking $550 million to train and equip the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to build a “border security force” in Syria.

“The US should move together with Turkey and stand by Turkey against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party/Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party/Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (PKK/PYD/YPG), which we regard as terrorist organizations,” said Çavuşoğlu, speaking to the state-run channel TRT News.

“We see there are different statements emerging in the US itself. We have been saying what they do is wrong for years,” Çavuşoğlu said. “We have also been witnessing an increase in diplomatic traffic in recent days. US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster came, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be here Friday. It is very clear on Turkey’s side. The US continues there with the PYD/PKK and we say we will clear the area from terrorists,” he said.

WATCHDOG CONFIRMS TRAINING OF SYRIAN BORDER FORCE BY US MILITARY

The Pentagon on Monday requested $300 million to train and equip the SDF and wants nearly as much to build a “border security force” with them in Syria. The military’s budget proposal for 2019 also contains $850 million for train-and-equip activities in Iraq to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“The training, equipment and operations support in this request will consolidate the gains achieved against ISIL and prevent its reemergence,” according to the proposal submitted to Congress. The Pentagon wants $1,4 billion for fiscal year 2019, an amount that is slightly less than its 2018 budget at $1,8 billion.

The U.S.-led coalition, officially known as the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), said last month it was creating a 30,000-strong border security force in northern Syria along Turkey’s border.

After strong objection by Turkey, the Pentagon appeared to somewhat back off from its plans for a border security force, comprised of local security forces trained in Syria, saying the US-led coalition is training the SDF as a “stabilization” and “hold force.”

But on the contrary, the Pentagon still plans to establish and fund the group, according to the budget proposal that asks for “$250 million for border security requirements related to the counter-ISIL mission” in Syria.

Moreover, a Department of Defense watchdog report released Monday confirmed that the US-backed PYD/PKK-led SDF continues to train a border security force despite repeated denials from the Pentagon. “The SDF was beginning to train internal security forces, border security forces, and explosive hazard reduction specialists and have drawn up plans to restructure their counter terrorism forces,” according to the quarterly Lead Inspector General report to Congress.

The report also indicated that the US-led Coalition has trained more than 11,000 SDF members out of a total of 12,500 members of “Syrian opposition groups” since late 2016. Beside the training to be given to the SDF, it said the US continued to equip the group but had taken measures to track the transfer of equipment allocated for the YPG, a part of the PYD/PKK, in particular to try to ensure that materiel provided to the YPG is used for its intended purposes.

Stating that the SDF was also trained for providing security in areas that were seized from ISIL, it added there are more than 3,000 trained SDF members in Syria’s city of Raqqah.

ERDOĞAN’S ALLY BAHÇELİ CALLS ON US TO KEEP DISTANCE FROM PKK

Devlet Bahçeli, ultra-nationalist ally of President Erdoğan and the leader of  Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on Tuesday called on the US to keep its distance from the outlawed PYD/PKK. “The US should immediately question its devastating and dark relations with the terrorist group, and should keep its distance from terror,” Bahçeli told his party’s parliamentary group on Tuesday.

Calling on the US to keep the promises it made to Turkey on fighting PYD/PKK, Bahceli said that Turkey’s expectations from the US are “loud and clear.” Referring to the US arming the PYD/PKK and the group’s presence in Manbij, northern Syria, Bahçeli added that “The bloody weapons in the hand of terrorists should be immediately collected, all terrorists should be removed from Manbij, and the natives of Manbij should be back in their own territories. Otherwise, Turkey will do what is necessary, and it will destroy all terror nests.”

Following its current operation in Afrin, northwestern Syria, just across the Turkish border, Turkish government has said it will proceed to Manbij, to the east. Washington has voiced concern about the safety of US troops in Manbij amid Turkey’s ongoing operation in Afrin. There are about 2,000 American soldiers in Manbij.

Bahceli stressed that no country should underestimate Turkey, saying that “We are a nation which has been irrigating this territory with its blood for 1,000 years. We are the Turkish nation.”

ERDOĞAN AND BAHÇELİ SLAM FORMER CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF 

Bahçeli also used harsh words for former Turkish Chief of General Staff İlker Başbuğ, who had warned of politicizing the ongoing “Operation Olive Branch” in the northern Syrian district of Afrin in an interview last week. “Our soldiers are fighting and being killed in Afrin. Now is not the time to discuss politics when our soldiers are fighting and being killed,” he said.

“Those who argue that our party is making political calculations over the Afrin operation have no character,” Bahçeli said, calling on Başbuğ to “explain who exactly is using Turley’s anti-terror fight for political purposes.”

Erdoğan has also slammed Başbuğ over his recent statements saying the ongoing military operation in Afrin should “not be used for domestic political purposes.” “It’s unfortunate to hear such a thing from a chief of general staff. Is it his job to argue that the operation is being used a political tool? Shame on him. What’s necessary will be done,” President Erdoğan, chair of the AKP, told reporters after his weekly address to the AKP parliamentary group on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a total of 1,439 PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG and allegedly ISIL militants have been “neutralized” since the launch of Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s Afrin region, the Turkish military said on Tuesday. Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” to imply the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured. In the statement, the Turkish General Staff said Turkish Armed Forces’ overnight airstrikes neutralized 70 terrorists on Monday.

Turkey on Jan. 20 launched Operation Olive Branch to remove PYD/PKK and allegedly ISIL militants from Afrin, northwestern Syria. According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as “to protect Syrians from terrorist cruelty and oppression.”

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