Ankara and Washington have been engaged in a fresh debate over terrorism support, after a top U.S. official claimed there was a link between Turkey and the presence of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria’s Idlib.
Turkey has strongly condemned remarks by Brett Mc- Gurk, U.S. special envoy for the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while also recalling the U.S. support to Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it says is an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK), hence a terrorist group.
“Our reaction to the statements of Brett McGurk, in which he associated Turkey with the presence of terrorist organizations in Idlib was brought to Mr. McGurk’s attention at a high-level démarche and his statements, which could be characterized as provocative, were protested,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hüseyin Müftüoğlu said in a written statement on July 30.
“In addition, Mr. McGurk was reminded of both the fact that the root causes enabling terrorist organizations to find foothold in Syria and Iraq could only be eradicated only if the deeds and actions of all relevant actors do not contradict one another, and our expectation that the Syria-based terrorist organization PYD/YPG [Democratic Union Party/People’s Protection Units] is not supported for whatever the reason may be,” Müftüoğlu said.
McGurk’s statements will also be reiterated to U.S. authorities through the Turkish Embassy in Washington, he noted.
Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Sedat Önal conveyed Turkey’ unease and asked the U.S. envoy to “correct” his statements if he did not aim any provocation, a Foreign Ministry official told Hürriyet Daily News
on condition of anonymity.
Önal warned the envoy that these kinds of statements could harm the grounds of cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey at a time when the U.S. administration is seeking cooperation with Ankara
for the post-ISIL period in Syria, said the official.
The Turkish diplomat told McGurk that the U.S. first had to face the fact that they support a terrorist organization in Syria and present the members of the YPG as heroes before implying Turkey supports terror.
McGurk’s remarks came during a speech he delivered at a Washington-based think tank on July 29.
McGurk said that Idlib has turned into a “safe zone for al-Qaeda terrorists on the Turkish border” and he asked “Why and how” the deputy of al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, could get to Idlib. He said it might not be the best approach for some partners of the U.S. “to send tens of thousands of weapons and turn their faces to the other side as foreign fighters enter this area,” VOA reported from the panel.
U.S. intended to work with Turkey to close down the northeastern border to recruited militants, McGurk stated at the panel.
The Turkish government has long been criticizing McGurk, claiming that he is engaged to the YPG in northern Syria, which Turkey sees as the offshoot of the outlawed PKK.
McGurk had received a plaque from YPG commander Polat Can, prompting Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in May to say that he had wanted the U.S. to replace the envoy and claiming he “supports terrorist groups.”
“Brett McGurk, the U.S.’s special envoy in the fight against Daesh, is definitely and clearly giving support to the PKK
and the YPG. It would be beneficial if this person was changed,” Çavuşoğlu said.
His words came on the same day McGurk was seen in a picture taken in northern Syria with a number of PKK
militants currently being sought by Turkey through Interpol.
McGurk is known as the mastermind of the U.S. plan to work with the YPG in defeating the jihadists in Syria.