Turkish PM questions US’ anti-terror fight as Turkish FM says ties with US close to breaking

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım on Monday questioned the seriousness of the US in the fight against terrorism and urged it again to drop its support for terror groups.

Speaking at a news conference alongside his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev in capital Ankara, Yıldırım said: “The US, which we think as our NATO ally and years-long strategic partner, should pull itself together, and come to a proper decision. The US should see that fight against a terror group via another one does not comply with a state’s seriousness. It would be nice if the US could see that, if it doesn’t then we will continue to do what is necessary.”

Describing the terror as the biggest threat for Turkey, Yıldırım said that “We will not be in a dirty deal.” He criticized the EU’s ignorance on this issue and added that “We take the necessary steps resolutely to terminate the terror threat both in Afrin and other regions.” Over Turkey’s ongoing operation in Syria’s Afrin, Turkish premier reiterated that the aim of the operation is to ensure the safety of its citizens, as well as of the European Union and the whole Balkans.

The US has long supported the PYD/PKK as a “reliable ally” in its fight against ISIL, despite strong objections from Ankara. For Turkey, the dispute has pushed relations with the United States to breaking point. “We will discuss these issues during Tillerson’s visit, and our ties are at a very critical stage,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Monday.

“Either we will improve our ties, or they will completely deteriorate,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters in İstanbul on the sidelines of a Turkish-African meeting in İstanbul. He added that he would discuss the problems in ties with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his “important” visit to Turkey this week as part of a regional tour.

Turkey’s expectations from US are “loud and clear,” said Çavuşoğlu. “We don’t want any more promises, we want concrete steps. In order to discuss certain subjects with the US […] the missing trust needs to be restored,” he said. “The reason for that missing trust is the US”

Criticising US ties with the YPG/PKK, Çavuşoğlu said that “The US is not touching ISIL members in small groups, here [in Syria] as an excuse to continue cooperation with the YPG/PKK terrorist group.”

Relations between Turkey and the US are heading toward a dangerous point and a potential face-off due to the US’s support for the YPG in Syria, said Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and ultra-nationalist ally of Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“US special forces standing guard with terrorists in Manbij is infidelity and a disgrace. The origin of the weapons being used against Turkish soldiers is clear. The US has been caught red-handed cooperating with terrorists. This hate, grudge and animosity; they are going toward a very dangerous point, a close combat,” said Bahçeli in the southern province of Antalya where he met with the party’s district and provincial heads.

“Our strategic partner, the country with which we stand side by side in NATO has collaborated with terror organizations. Mercy shown to the enemy is inability and weakness. If the US does not turn back from its mistake; if provocation, harassment, and terror continue, the US’s stance will be regarded as animosity,” he added.

Also on Monday, Ankara Mayor Mustafa Tuna has said as a show of intimidation that the name of the street where the Embassy of the United States is located in Turkey’s capital will be changed to “Olive Branch.” In a statement posted on his official Twitter account, Tuna said that the proposal to change the name of the street has been signed and that they will table a motion to the city council Monday evening. The current name of the street is Nevzat Tandoğan, who was the fourth mayor of the capital.

Moreover, Turkey’s Interior Ministry has updated its terror list and included leader of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) Salih Muslim.  The ministry’s terror list contains the names and details of hundreds of people from various terrorist organizations, ranking them in five color-coded categories from red (the most wanted) to blue, green, orange and grey.

Muslim has been added to the red category where a reward of TL 4 million is offered for help leading to the arrest of individuals on that part of the list. In 2014, Muslim paid a visit to Turkey and met with Turkish Foreign Ministry officials. In an interview he gave to the Radikal daily back then, he said his visit took place following an invitation from the Turkish Foreign Ministry. Over the past several years, Turkey’s view of Muslim has apparently changed.

Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary James Mattis late Sunday acknowledged that some members of the PYD/PKK-led SDF had shifted to Afrin, Syria amid Turkey’s ongoing operation in the border region. “The distraction of what’s going on up in Afrin right now, which is drawing off some of the [SDF] forces, which have got about 50 percent,” Mattis told reporters during his flight to Europe, adding that the percentage could be less or more.

As for the reason for the SDF mobilization to Afrin, he said the group believes “their fellow Kurds” in Afrin to be under attack, referring to Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in the northwestern Syrian province.

However, describing Turkey as the only NATO ally with an active insurgency facing it, Mattis also reiterated that Ankara has real security concerns in the region. “They [Turkey] have a legitimate security concern, and we do not dismiss one bit of that, along that border with Syria,” he stated, adding that Washington will continue to work closely with Turkey. Mattis is expected to meet with his Turkish counterpart Nurettin Canikli in Brussels this week.

Also on Monday, the US government unveiled on Monday that the Pentagon’s 2019 budget will include $300 million for the train-and-equip program for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), predominantly led by the PKK-affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG), and $250 million for building a “border security force” in Syria.

According to the budget bill that US President Donald Trump signed Friday, Pentagon will get $1,8 billion for train-and-equip programs in Syria and Iraq. The spending was $1,4 billion for the 2018 budget. The money allocated for the SDF’s training is part of the spending in border security requirement in anti-ISIL missions.

The Pentagon has increased the money allocated for its partners in Syria, including SDF forces, to $500 million. It also requested $850 million for providing training and other military assistance to Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army.

The Turkish General Staff stated on Monday that 31 soldiers have been killed in the incursion into the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria since operations began on Jan. 20. The number of wounded stood at 143, the military said in a statement on its website on Monday.

According to the statement, also, a total of 1,369 PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG and allegedly ISIL militants have been “neutralized” since the launch of Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s Afrin region. Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” to imply the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured. According to the statement, Turkish Armed Forces’ overnight airstrikes had destroyed 15 targets used for shelter as well as ammunition depots, and weapon pits.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency (AA) has also reported on Monday that Turkish soldiers and Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants have cleared Muhammadiyah village and Amarah Hill of PYD/PKK in western Afrin region. Jandaris town’s Muhammadiyah village is located in the west of Afrin. Since the beginning of the operation, 51 different strategic areas have been captured, among them a town center, 33 villages, three rural areas and 14 hills.

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