Turkey opposes transfer of US arms to Kurds fighting Islamic State
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to entertain the idea of arming the Syrian Kurdish Group PYD because of ties to Turkish insurgent group PKK.
Suruc, Turkey — Turkey wouldn't agree to any US arms transfers to Kurdish fighters who are battling Islamic militants in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying Sunday, as the extremist group fired more mortar rounds near the Syrian-Turkish border.
Turkey views the main Syrian Kurdish group, the PYD – and its military wing which is fighting IS militants – as an extension of the PKK, which has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terror group by the US and NATO.
Washington has said recently that it has engaged in intelligence sharing with Kurdish fighters and officials have not ruled out future arms transfers to the Kurdish fighters.
"The PYD is for us, equal to the PKK. It is a terror organization," Erdogan told a group of reporters on his return from a visit to Afghanistan.
"It would be wrong for the United States – with whom we are friends and allies in NATO – to talk openly and to expect us to say 'yes' to such a support to a terrorist organization," Erdogan said. His comments were reported by the state-run Anadolu agency on Sunday.
Turkey's opposition to arms transfers to the Kurdish forces is hampering the US-led coalitions' efforts to fight the extremists and further complicating relations between Turkey and Washington. The countries are involved in negotiations about Ankara's role with the US and NATO allies fighting the Islamic State group, which is attempting to capture the strategic town Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border.
Turkey has demanded that the coalition widen its campaign against the militants by providing greater aid to Syrian rebels, who are battling both the IS and President Bashar Assad's forces. Turkey has so far provided sanctuary to an estimated 200,000 Syrians fleeing Kobani, and recently agreed to train and equip moderate Syrian rebel fighters trying to remove Assad from power.
The White House said President Barack Obama spoke with Erdogan on Saturday about the situation in Kobani and steps that could be taken to counter IS advances.
"The two leaders pledged to continue to work closely together to strengthen cooperation against ISIL," a statement said, using another name for IS militants.
Fighting between the militants and the Kurdish fighters defending Kobani continued on Sunday. Mortar strikes hit the town, sending plumes of smoke into the air. Three mortars also fell on the Turkish side of the border, landing in an open field where they caused no injuries. On Saturday and Sunday, IS appeared to be targeting the border crossing area, potentially in a bid to hamper Kobani's last link to the outside world.
In an attempt to stave off the advance, a US-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes on IS positions in and near the town, as well as in other parts of Syria, particularly in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir el-Zour, as well as in Iraq. Several airstrikes hit Kobani on Saturday evening.
The flow of migrants into Turkey has intensified since IS' push to take Kobani and cut access for Kurdish fighters to other areas of Syria they control.
On Saturday, IS fighters also weighed in on their attempts to take Kobani, arguing it wasn't a fight against the Kurds.
"We came to establish the laws of God – not to fight the Kurds," a fighter in army fatigues said on a video uploaded to YouTube. The video was uploaded by a user who appears to be embedded with the militants in Kobani. It appeared genuine and reflected Associated Press reporting.
But another fighter who appeared to be from a European country, judging from his accent in Arabic, described their aim "to liberate the land from the fifth of the apostates, the PKK and others," referring to Kurdish secular fighters – who are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim – as apostates.
The fighter said the US-led coalition to fight the militant group was a sure sign of the justness of their cause.
"As for the planes that shell us 24 hours, day and night, by God we say: they increase our faith, assuredness and steadfastness. We know we are on the right path because all the (non-believers) of the world have gathered against us."
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, visited one of the refugee camps set up in a school in the Turkish border town of Suruc.
While 900,000 people have been registered as refugees in Turkey since the Syrian crisis began four years ago, "the reality is that the numbers are nearer to 1.6 million," Amos said.
"Of course countries have concerns about security, and about the impact on their economies and on essential services like health and education. But it's also a crisis with a huge human impact," she said. "The international community has to continue to do all it can to find a political solution to this crisis."
Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara. Diaa Hadid in Beirut contributed to this report.