U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday that Turkey’s operation against Kurdish forces in northwestern Syria has “detracted” from the larger coalition war against the Islamic State.
“It has detracted from our fight to defeat Islamic State in eastern Syria,” Mr. Tillerson said of ongoing offensives by U.S.-backed Kurdish militia to clear remaining pockets of extremists. “Forces have diverted from there to Afrin,” he said.
Turkey has repeatedly called on the United States to stop working with the Kurdish YPG militia, which it views as an extension of the blacklisted Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK).
Relations are strained between the U.S. and Turkey over multiple issues including Washington’s arming of the YPG and the failure to extradite the suspects accused of ordering the July 2016 coup bid.
Turkey has called on the U.S. repeatedly to stop working with the YPG, which it views as a “terrorist” group. But Washington has expressed concern about the Olive Branch operation and urged restraint from Turkey. “Olive Branch” is the name given to Turkey’s operation launched on Jan. 20 against Afrin.
On Sunday, Ankara again threatened to expand its anti-YPG operation east of the Euphrates, warning that American soldiers risked being targeted in the area if they wore an enemy uniform.
On Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it appears that U.S. troops in Manbij are not familiar with an “Ottoman slap” and denounced a proposed budget spending for Syrian Kurdish militias. He called on the American people to question where their tax money is being spent.
Mr. Tillerson said he would be in Ankara later in the week to determine a path forward with Turkish counterparts. “We have been in discussions with our NATO ally Turkey,” he told reporters in Kuwait City.
“We think it’s important that they are mindful of the effect (the operation) is having on our principal mission, which is the defeat of ISIS.”
Mr. Erdogan said he would meet with Mr. Tillerson on these matters. “If these things don’t work based on what is right and legal, the name [of our alliance with the U.S.] won’t be alliance or a model partnership.”