Turkey on Tuesday said the US arming of a Kurdish militia force deemed a terror group by Ankara was “extremely dangerous”, a day after Washington announced that it started distributing arms to the militia.
The Pentagon on Tuesday said it had begun to transfer small arms and vehicles to the Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Syrian Arab alliance fighting ISIS and containing Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) fighters.
The weapons include AK-47s and small-caliber machine guns, Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said.
“Such steps are extremely dangerous for Syria’s unity and territorial integrity,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.
“If we are looking for stability in Syria, we should row back from those mistakes,” he told a press conference with Slovenian counterpart Karl Erjavec in Ankara.
Turkey views the YPG as a “terror group” and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984 that has killed more than 40,000 people.
But Washington believes the YPG is the most effective fighting force against ISIS jihadists in Syria, causing tensions between the NATO allies.
The US weapons transfers began ahead of an upcoming offensive to recapture Raqqa, the last major bastion and ISIS’ de facto capital in Syria.
The SDF have now advanced to within a few miles of Raqqa on several fronts, and this month captured the strategic town of Tabqa and the adjacent dam from the jihadists.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with US counterpart Donald Trump in Washington for the first time where the issue of US support for the YPG was discussed on May 16, the Turkish foreign minister said.
Less than a week before Erdogan’s visit, Trump approved arming fighters from the YPG.
“The president clearly expressed our position and concerns during his Washington visit. It was stressed how risky and dangerous the support given to the YPG was,” Cavusoglu said.
“These weapons could be used against all humanity, not just Turkey.”
US officials have told Reuters that Washington was also looking to boost intelligence cooperation with Turkey to support its fight against the PKK.
It was unclear if the effort would be enough to soothe Turkey, however.