Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has issued one of his strongest warnings meant for the US, pledging to “break the arms and wings” of Washington-backed militants in Syria.
The warning in an address to his ruling party members in the southern province of Kahramanmaras on Saturday came as tensions grow between Turkey and the US over the latter’s support for Kurdish militants.
Turkey’s patience boiled over when the US announced last month to create a 30,000-strong force comprised of Kurdish militants, which would be deployed along the Turkish border.
Without mentioning the US, Erdogan said, “They want to sever us from our sisters and brothers by forming a terror corridor along our borders. They do not hesitate to link arms with terrorist organizations.”
“They are not aware of the fact that we will break the arms and wings of the structure they have been striving to form and destroy it completely,” he added.
Turkey launched an operation in the Syrian city of Afrin on January 20 to eliminate the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).
The US views the YPG as an ally in Syria, where the militant group forms the backbone of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which is being trained, equipped and protected by the Americans.
“We believe we will sooner or later bring down the terrorist organizations and those who are behind them,” Erdogan said.
“Those who see us as yesterday’s Turkey, and treat us in this manner, have begun to gradually realize the truth,” he said, in an apparent reference to Washington which has had long-held military ties with Ankara.
The Syrian government has condemned both the “Turkish aggression” and the “illegitimate” US presence in Syria, saying they violate international law and impede the political solution and victory over terrorism.
While Turkey is coming under mounting pressure over reports of rising civilian casualties, Erdogan has announced plans to expand the offensive to Manbij where Turkish troops are likely to face US-led forces.
On Saturday, Erdogan said “a global smear campaign” had been launched against Turkey’s operations in Syria.
“The launch of a worldwide war of propaganda, based on lies, slander and distortion, by those who cannot deal with Turkey on the ground, will not work,” he said.
Erdogan further rejected reports that civilians were being targeted in Turkey’s operation in Syria. He said Turkey was on a mission to eradicate terrorism, which was key to preventing the re-emergence of colonialism, in another apparent dig at the US.
Later on Saturday, Erdogan traveled to the province of Osmaniye, where he said a total of 1,951 YPG militants have been “neutralized” in the Afrin operation.
US concerned about Turkey’s S-400 purchase
Ankara and Washington also appear to be at odds over Turkey’s purchase of the advanced Russian-made S-400 long-range air missile defense system.
On Saturday, a US government official expressed concerns about Turkey’s planned purchase, saying talks were underway on alternatives to boost the country’s air defense.
“The US understands Turkey’s desire to improve its air defenses. But we are concerned and have said so publicly about potential acquisition of Russian S-400 missiles, which would have implications for NATO interoperability and which would potentially expose Turkey to sanctions,” the Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News quoted the unnamed official as saying.
In December, Turkey officially signed a $2.5 billion agreement with Russia for the S-400s to become the first NATO member state to acquire the system.
Asked if there were specific proposals to Turkey, the US official said “conversations are taking place.”
“We are also working with Turkey cooperatively. This issue was discussed in Ankara last week, about how we can find better solutions to help Turkey’s air defense needs,” he pointed out.
US warns Iraq over S-400 deal
Media reports also suggest that Iraq may buy the Russian S-400 system, triggering a US warning of “potential repercussions.”
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Neuert said on Thursday that Washington has contacted many countries, including Iraq, to explain the significance of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), and possible consequences that would arise in the wake of defense agreements with Moscow.
“We are communicating with governments all around the world, such as Iraq and others, about the CAATSA law,” she said.