Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
has criticized the United States after photos of U.S. special operations forces wearing Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) insignia on their shoulders during an assault on Syria’s Raqqa emerged.
“This is not what was promised to us,” Erdoğan said on May 28 speaking at a ceremony in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır.
“I am someone who believes that politics should be conducted honestly. Therefore, our allies, those who are with us in NATO, cannot and should not send their own soldiers to Syria, with insignias of the YPG,” said Erdoğan.
“Those who say ‘we will continue to support YPG, come and learn from us. We tell them, we give the documents on the terror groups, but they take the wrong steps,” he added.
Agence France-Presse released photos showing armed men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as U.S. special operations in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa on May 25. Some of the men seen in the photos wore an YPG insignia on their shoulders.
The YPG is the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey says is a Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK), thus making both the YPG and PYD terrorist organizations.
Though designating the PKK
as a terrorist organization, the U.S. does not perceive the PYD and the YPG in the same way and says they are “reliable” partners in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The United States sought to play down the diplomatic rift with Turkey due to this issue.
The Pentagon said on May 27 that it was “unauthorized” and “inappropriate” for U.S. Special Forces to wear YPG patches on their uniforms.
“Corrective action taken, and we have communicated as much to our military partners and military allies in the region,” anti-ISIL coalition spokesman Col. Steve Warren said during a videoconference from Baghdad.
Warren said commanders ordered troops to remove the patches.
According to Warren, U.S. Special Forces have worn local militia patches in Afghanistan and Iraq in the past but the political sensitivity related to the YPG made the practice inappropriate.
“The sensitivities, in fact, are with a NATO
ally,” Warren said. “It’s also important to understand the larger strategic context, which -- and I think that’s the inappropriateness of it -- is that they didn’t understand that or appreciate it as they should have.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said they understood Turkey’s concerns.
“We understand Turkey’s concerns, let me make that clear, and we continue to discuss this as well as other concerns Turkey has,” Toner said.
Toner said that Washington does not regard the YPG, which operates in Syria, as part of the PKK.
“With respect to Turkey’s comments about these photos we’ve been very clear... about our belief that the YPG is not connected to the PKK,” Toner said.
“On the contrary, we believe the YPG as well as other forces in northern Syria are effectively taking the fight to ISIL,” he added.
“And we’re going to continue to support them with our assist and support operation.”