(The Sunday Times) -- Binali Yildirim, the Turkish prime minister, said Turkey was ready to step up its fight against the Syrian Kurds, despite Washington’s decision to directly arm them for the fight to retake the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa.
“We are fighting against them inside our borders and if they are outside our borders in Iraq and Syria, we will fight them there as well,” Mr Yildirim told reporters in London a day after meeting James Mattis, the US defence secretary, to discuss the announcement.
“They are not humans, they are machines killing humans,” he said. “They are killing for whoever gives them the most. The US has made those mistakes in Afghanistan. The US has made those mistakes in Iraq. They are making the same mistakes in Syria.”
The YPG is the dominant force in a US-backed coalition of Syrian fighters battling alongside American, British and French special forces to capture Raqqa.
They have won international acclaim for their fighting prowess but Ankara regards them as terrorists, thanks to their links to the PKK, which has fought an insurgency in the country’s predominantly Kurdish southeast for three decades. The PKK is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the US and Britain.
The Pentagon justified its decision to arm the group this week, saying they were the “only forces on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.” That effort could be complicated, however, if Turkish military action against them intensifies and Turkey sends forces in to northern Syria, drawing Kurdish fighters away from the battle for Raqqa.
Mr Yildirim cast the decision to arm the Syrian Kurds as a relic of the Obama administration that could still be reversed, despite the Pentagon’s announcement that the plan was moving forwards.
“It wasn’t out of choice, it was out of necessity, because of a past they couldn’t undo,” Mr Yildirim said. “This plan is not the Trump administration’s plan. [It] wanted to come up with a new plan but the people in the field reported that plan couldn’t work. That’s how this happened.”
His words were echoed by President Erdogan as he prepared for his first trip to Washington since Donald Trump became president. Mr Erdogan expressed hopes of a “new beginning” in US-Turkish relations after a fraught relationship with President Obama, and suggested he believed that Washington could be talked out of its alliance with the Kurds.
Mr Yildirim said that the US had assured Turkey that the YPG would not stay on in Raqqa after it was captured. The plan is to hand control over to a local civilian council, which could then see the city handed back to regime control.
Damascus gave its blessing to the Kurdish-led operation to retake Raqqa for the first time this week, a day before Washington announced its decision to arm them directly.
Other US-backed rebels have long accused the Syrian Kurds of colluding with the regime for its own benefit and to ensure future autonomy over Kurdish areas in the north.