US funding of Kurdish militants in Syria to impact Turkey’s decisions: Erdogan

KONFRONTASI-Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that Washington’s refusal to stop funding the Kurdish militants in Syria will affect Ankara’s decisions, ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week.

Addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in parliament on Tuesday, Erdogan criticized Washington for supporting militants from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

“Our ally’s decision to give financial support to the YPG... will surely affect the decisions we will take,” Erdogan said.

Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.

Erdogan’s comments followed the release of the US Department of Defense’s 2019 budget, which includes funds to train and equip local forces purportedly fighting Daesh.

 “It is very clear that those who say ‘we will respond aggressively if you hit us’ have never experienced an Ottoman slap,” Erdogan said, in an apparent reference to comments made by US Lieutenant General Paul Funk during a visit to the northern Syrian city of Manbij last week.

Funk had said American troops would remain in Manbij despite Ankara’s demands for a US pullout.

US officials claim that the YPG is the most effective fighting force against the Daesh terrorist group in northern Syria, and have substantially increased their weaponry and technology support for the terrorist group.

Turkey is wary of the presence of Kurdish militants close to its borders in Syria, and has been opposed to Washington’s efforts to train and arm them in the Arab country. The US has said it has no plans to pull out troops stationed near the town of Manbij.

Ankara has been waging “Operation Olive Branch” against the Kurds in Syria’s Afrin region since January 20 in a bid to eliminate the Kurdish militants. Turks have said the offensive could extend to Manbij and beyond.

Erdogan had earlier said the YPG is trying to establish a “terror corridor” on Turkey’s southern border, linking Syria’s northern city of Afrin with a large Kurdish-controlled area to the east.

Senior authorities in Ankara have warned Washington that there could be a confrontation between Turkish and American troops in northern Syria if arms transfer to the Kurds was not stopped.[mr/ptv]