Bloomberg | Published: January 18, 2018
- Ankara says distrust of U.S. continues over unkept promises
- Turkey army, intelligence chief in Russia for Syria talks
A Turkish Air Force F-16 Photographer: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
By Selcan Hacaoglu
Turkey drew closer to its threatened offensive against Kurdish separatist fighters in northwest Syria, sending top security chiefs to Russia to seek permission to use Syrian airspace for strikes.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu dismissed U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s attempts to allay Turkey’s fears about a border security force incorporating thousands of Kurdish fighters that the American-led coalition against Islamic State has said will be formed. The concept of such a force has outraged Turkey, which says the Kurdish fighters have designs on Turkish territory.
Turkey’s top general, Hulusi Akar, and intelligence agency chief Hakan Fidan flew to Moscow on Thursday to discuss regional security issues and developments and Syria with General Valery Gerasimov, head of Russia’s General Staff, the Turkish military said on its website. Turkey is holding talks with Russia and Iran — whose militaries are supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country’s civil war — about using Syrian airspace for the operation in the city of Afrin, Cavusoglu told CNN-Turk television in an interview on Thursday.
“We are under attack from Afrin every day, we have to make an intervention,” Cavusoglu told CNN-Turk. “The U.S. must stop cooperating with this terrorist organization,” he said of the Kurdish fighters. “We have to establish coordination for intervention from the air” so that military observers in the area are not harmed, he added, referring to those countries’ military advisers in Syria.
Syria’s Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad warned it would retaliate if Afrin is attacked, state-run Sana news agency reported.
The growing prospect of a Turkish military confrontation with U.S.-backed troops has strained already troubled relations between the NATO allies. The Kurds were Washington’s most trusted force in the U.S.-led campaign to drive Islamic State extremists from Syria, but the Turkish government says they work hand-in-hand with PKK militants who have been battling for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast since the 1980s.
The PKK is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union as well as Turkey.
“The U.S. must stop cooperating with this terrorist group,” Cavusoglu said.
Tillerson was reported Wednesday as denying that a border security force will be established, saying the issue has been “misportrayed.” Earlier this week, the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State confirmed that such a unit was to be built.
Cavusoglu said Turkey wasn’t satisfied with the U.S. explanations, while adding that it has no interest in colliding with the U.S. over the operation. The offensive in Afrin, in Syria’s northwest, would not directly entangle U.S. troops, which are embedded with Kurdish fighters in the country’s northeast.
Turkish army units shelled Kurdish positions around Afrin on Thursday while convoys of tanks, armored personnel carriers and busloads of troops arrived at the border overnight, according to footage from CNN-Turk television.
The lira was trading 0.7 percent higher at 3.7929 per dollar at 2:22 p.m. in Istanbul. The currency had weakened earlier this week over the likelihood of a campaign in Syria and a deteriorating current account.
In a statement late Wednesday, the National Security Council in Ankara said that Turkey “will not allow the formation of a terror army at its Syria border and will take every measure to prevent it.”