(GPA) Ankara – Turkish President Recep Erdogan said in a press conference yesterday that he has proof of the US aiding terrorists in Syria such as the Kurdish YPG and PYD but also including the Islamic State (IS).
Erdogan said it was “very clear” that the US is arming and supporting “terrorist groups including Daesh (IS)” as well as the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) and PYD (Democratic Union Party). The US is currently at odds with Turkey over whether the YPG and PYD are actually terror groups and the US sees them as “reliable partners” in the war against IS despite Turkish claims of their connections to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). The PKK is agreed to be a terrorist group by the US, EU and Turkey.
The US does work with some Kurdish groups under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which also includes some pro-Turkish elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). State Department spokesman Mark Toner addressed these claims in his daily press briefing saying that the US has “never provided weapons to the YPG.”
This is of course counter to Erdogan’s claim which he says to “have confirmed evidence, with pictures, photos and videos.” Erdogan also called on the gulf countries of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to join with Turkey, Iran and Russia instead of the US to work on future agreements for Syria. This is despite very real and very public evidence that the Saudis and Qataris actually have provided material support to IS.
Toner described the claim of the US aiding terrorists or supporting IS as “ludicrous” but it may not be so crazy. The only issue is that if the US did provide support to IS besides indirectly through Saudi Arabia and Qatar it would’ve have been facilitated by Turkey. This has led some to speculate that any evidence Turkey has for these claims should also implicate them in helping IS.
It was Turkey’s new ally, Russia who originally claimed Turkey was providing support for IS as well as facilitating the smuggling of oil from IS held territory over their southern border and on to European markets. Turkey has also been accused of initially allowing fighters to flow across their border to join IS to achieve Erdogan’s publicly stated end game of toppling Syrian President Bashar Assad.
It is true that the US has armed several groups that, at least collaborate with known terrorist organizations such as the al Qaeda affiliate Jahbat al Nusra, yet Erdogan has also supported these groups in the recent past which many say was a contributing factor to the recent assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey. The assassin, a Turkish police officer, even shouted that the murder was “for Aleppo” as he pulled the trigger. Aleppo was where many Turkish backed groups fought against the Syrian army until the city’s full liberation last week.
During the final days of the siege of Aleppo it was ceasefires brokered between Russia and Turkey that brought the fighting to a halt and facilitated evacuations. To anyone paying close attention this should be a clear indication that it truly is Turkey that, at least to some extent, holds influence over these militant groups that Russia deems terrorists. While it’s unclear what Erdogan’s or Russian President Vladimir Putin’s long game is, it’s very likely that Russian officials know diplomatic negotiations with terrorists in Syria require Turkish participation.
We may not find out exactly what ‘evidence’ Erdogan has seen for US aiding terrorists. It’s clear however that if the US were aiding IS this would be the most offensive to Americans but most likely didn’t happen without Turkey acting as a third party. Whatever plan Erdogan has is not clear to most outside observers but he may be surprised if, once Syria has reached some level of peace, that he may not be needed by Russia as much anymore.