ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – A Friday phone call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart Donald Trump led to much speculation over whether Washington would continue to ship arms to Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.
Shortly after the call, Erdogan’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Trump made a pledge to Erdogan that weapon supplies to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) would be halted.
Hundreds of American troops have been on an “advise and train” mission with the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) since former US President Barack Obama signed an order in 2014 to support the Kurdish group with airstrikes during the Siege of Kobani.
“Our discomfort regarding the provision of weapons to the YPG was conveyed to Mr. Trump once again,” Cavusoglu told a news conference in Ankara. “Trump very clearly said he had given instructions not to provide weapons to the YPG.”
However, a readout by the Turkish Presidency released several hours later did not confirm Cavusoglu’s claim, nor did it mention the YPG.
“President Erdogan and US President Trump discussed the bilateral relations between Turkey and the US and exchanged views regarding the Syrian crisis and regional matters,” it read.
“The two leaders highlighted the importance of strengthening the Turkey-US relations and agreed on [the] joint fight against all terrorist organizations, including [IS], PKK, FETO and similar groups,” the press release continued, mentioning the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Gulen Movement, a domestic opponent of Erdogan.
A White House statement, however, seemed to at least partially corroborate the first Turkish claim, saying that Trump had told Erdogan of “pending adjustments to the military support provided to our partners on the ground in Syria.”
Trump’s decision appeared to catch both the Pentagon and the US State Department off guard, the Associated Press reported.
Officials at both agencies, who would normally be informed of changes in US policy toward arming the Syrian Kurds, said they were unaware of any alterations. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, AP said.
Turkey argues the YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK which has been waging a decades-long guerrilla warfare against Turkish troops for larger Kurdish rights.
Last May, before the launch of a campaign to capture the IS capital of Raqqa in eastern Syria, Trump— much to the dismay of Ankara—authorized the Pentagon to ship more advanced and heavier weapons as well as vehicles to the YPG.
Fearful of similar demands by Kurds at home, Turkey has repeatedly called on the US to cease backing the YPG which is the primary armed forces of the self-declared Kurdish autonomous region in northern Syria, known as Rojava.
The two NATO allies’ relations have deteriorated over the US-Kurdish alliance as an aide to Erdogan went as far as to threaten to strike American forces embedded with the YPG with missiles.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany