Turkey will not participate in an offensive on Raqqa, an ISIS stronghold in Syria, because the US-led coalition will include Kurdish militia fighters, who Turkey considers terrorists, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
Erdogan made the comments Thursday while addressing Turkish businessmen in Istanbul after returning to Turkey from a Tuesday visit to the White House.
“I saw that America is very sensitive about [the] Raqqa operation,” Erdogan said. “We said, ‘We cannot be in an operation where there are terror organizations. Wish you the best.’ “
He also warned that Turkey would respond to any threat posed to it.
“America is going into operations with them,” he said of the Kurdish groups. “We also said this: If terror organizations pose a threat for us we will use our self-defense right and do what is necessary. We … won’t consult anybody on this.”
The Kurds are an ethnic group in the Middle East who have never had a nation state of their own.
The YPG is the Syrian branch of the Turkish Kurdish Workers Party, the PKK, a Marxist group that has been trying since 1984 to carve out a separatist state from Turkey. Turkey and the United States have branded the PKK a terrorist group, but the United States thinks differently about the YPG and fights with them against ISIS.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the United States should replace its special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, Brett McGurk, because of his perceived support for Kurdish “militants” in northern Syria, Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu reported Thursday.
“McGurk is definitely giving clear support to the PKK and YPG,” Cavusoglu was quoted as saying. “It will be beneficial if this person is replaced.”
Meanwhile, the US State Department issued a statement saying McGurk has the full support of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the White House.
The statement added that, “Turkey is a key NATO Ally that faces legitimate domestic security concerns emanating from ISIS, PKK, and other designated terrorist organizations.”