Turkey, US in deadlock over two major issues
Turkey and the United States have become ensconced in a deadlock over two major issues, Turkey’s demand for the extradition of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the government accuses of staging the failed July 15 coup, and the approach to Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Criticizing the U.S. for not extraditing Gülen to Turkey despite evidence allegedly proving his role in the coup attempt that killed more than 250 people, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said they had previously extradited terrorists the U.S. had wanted from Turkey.
“The U.S. said ‘catch 10 terrorists and send them [to us],’ and we caught nine of them and handed them [to the U.S.]. It’s the same thing. We want the head of such an [terrorist] organization. We are strategic partners; we are together in NATO but they say that the court needs to reach a decision. We cannot wait. [The crime] has been committed in [our country]; let us make the decision,” Erdoğan told Bloomberg News’ John Micklethwait in an interview in New York that aired on Sept. 22.
Erdoğan, who is attending meetings at the United Nations, also accused the United States of supplying more weapons to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), in northern Syria this week.
“Three days ago America dropped two plane loads of weapons in Kobane for these terror groups,” he said during an address at a Turkish-American Cultural Society event in New York, adding that he had raised the issue on Sept. 21 with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who said he had no knowledge of the arms drop.
The U.S. and Turkey differ on the designation of the PYD and YPG, and thus the cooperation to be conducted with them.
While the U.S. sees the PYD and YPG as major strategic partners in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria, Turkey regards them as terror organizations, accusing them of being offshoots of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK is designated as a terror organization by the U.S. and the European Union.
U.S. had air-dropped weapons to the Syrian Kurdish fighters in the largely Kurdish town of Kobane in 2014. Erdoğan said half of those arms were seized by ISIL fighters.
“If you think you can finish off Daesh with the YPG and PYD, you cannot, because they are terrorist groups, too,” Erdoğan said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
Late last month, Turkey launched the Euphrates Shield military operation in northern Syria alongside the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that has taken control of Jarablus and al-Rai in northern Syria.
While Erdoğan declared al-Bab to be the next target in the operation, he also said Turkey was willing to support the anti-ISIL coalition in a possible operation to liberate Raqqa, ISIL’s de facto capital.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Sept. 22 that the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in which the PYD play a leading role, will take the lead in ousting ISIL from Raqqa.
“They and others associated with them will be the force that envelops and collapses ISIL’s control over Raqqa,” Carter said at the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“At the same time, I emphasize, and the chairman [U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford] already stressed this, we’re working with the Turks also, the Turkish military, our good ally, very strongly,” he added.
Washington has maintained that the SDF is an effective partner in the anti-ISIL fight, a claim reiterated during the Sept. 22 testimony.
“They [PYD/YPG] are our most effective partner on the ground. It’s very difficult as you know, managing a relationship between our support for the Syrian Democratic Forces and our Turkish allies,” said Dunford, who was testifying alongside Carter at the Senate.
“If we would reinforce the Syrian Democratic Forces’ current capabilities, that will increase the prospects of our success in Raqqa,” he added.
Asked if he supports “arming the Kurds more in Syria,” Carter responded by saying, “I support whatever is required to help them move in the direction of Raqqa.”
Meanwhile, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, who accompanied Erdoğan during his visit to New York, said Biden had admitted that Ankara provided “concrete evidence” about Gülen being the mastermind of the coup attempt in Turkey.
“We have enough information, documents and proof that show Gülen is the leader of this terror group that tried to make a coup,” Bozdağ said.
“Mr. Biden also agreed and stated that there was concrete evidence,” he added.