ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Raising the stakes in a potential confrontation with the United States, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday asked what Washington was doing in Syria and why it was arming Kurdish forces there.
“You have set up 20 bases in northern Syria? What are you there for? You are bringing in 5,000 truckloads of weapons, 2,000 cargo planes full of arms? Against whom?” Erdogan said of the US support for Kurds fighting the Islamic State (IS)—and now bracing a Turkish army attack—in Syria.
“Now that you have cleared [IS], why are those weapons still there? Are you bringing them [to be used against] us?” He continued during a conference on International Women’s Day at his Ankara palace.
Last year, Turkey’s official news agency leaked the location of US bases Erdogan voiced anger about, leading to a sharp Pentagon response warning the Turks against putting its troops’ lives in jeopardy.
Ankara has been staging an assault on the Kurdish Afrin region where unlike the eastern part of Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) there is no US military presence.
Erdogan has called it a war whereas Kurdish officials have described his intentions as one of “ethnic cleansing” against their people.
He said once his army’s “Operation Olive Branch” is completed he will give “Afrin back to its rightful owner,” a phrase he has repeatedly used in his claims that the area “belongs to Arabs.”
The offensive, greenlighted by Russia, opened up a new front in one of war-torn Syria’s last peaceful zones and put the two NATO allies on a collision course.
Ankara labels the US-allied People’s Protection Units (YPG) “terrorists” for their ties with the Kurdish rebellion in Turkey, a designation no other country agrees with.
Ankara’s campaign in which Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups take part has led to a withdrawal of a substantial number of Kurdish-led fighters from the front lines against IS in southeastern Syria.
Last month, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Ankara’s attack on Afrin was distracting the Kurds from defeating the remaining pockets of IS.
Pentagon officials on Monday confirmed that Turkey’s actions have led to a temporary suspension of ground operations against the group.
Erdogan has threatened to move on to capture the town of Manbij, east of Afrin, to remove Kurdish-led forces along whom US troops are stationed since 2016 when they drove out IS.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany