Erdogan Aide Hits Back After Trump Warns US ‘Will Devastate Turkey Economically if They Hit Kurds’ in Syria

By Patrick Goodenough | January 13, 2019 | 9:27 PM EST

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Photo: Turkish presidency, File)

(Update: National Security Advisor John Bolton said on Monday that President Trump had an “excellent conversation” with his Turkish counterpart and that Trump “reemphasized the consistent U.S. position on standing by the Kurds and those who fought with the U.S.”)

( – President Trump appears to have upset Turkey’s notoriously prickly Islamist president with a tweet Sunday warning that the U.S. “[w]ill devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds.”

“Terrorists can’t be your partners and allies,” Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu quoted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan aide Ibrahim Kalin as saying on Twitter. “Turkey expects the U.S. to honor our strategic partnership and doesn’t want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda.”

On his Twitter feed, Trump also suggested that the U.S. wants a 20-mile-wide buffer zone on the Syrian side of the Syria-Turkey border – the location of Kurdish fighters allied to the U.S. in the fight against ISIS, but regarded as terrorists by Erdogan.

Trump added, too, that his administration does “not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.”

The pair of presidential tweets read in full: “Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions. Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone ....

“... Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey. Russia, Iran and Syria have been the biggest beneficiaries of the long term U.S. policy of destroying ISIS in Syria – natural enemies. We also benefit but it is now time to bring our troops back home. Stop the ENDLESS WARS!”


Trump’s tweets came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke by phone to his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu. According to State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino, Pompeo had “reiterated the United States’ commitment to addressing Turkish security concerns along the Turkey-Syria border, while emphasizing the importance that the United State places on the protection of forces who worked with the United States and the global coalition to defeat ISIS.”

Also Saturday, Pompeo told reporters in Abu Dhabi that the U.S. recognizes Turkey’s “right to defend their country from terrorists – and we also know that those who aren’t terrorists, those who were fighting alongside of us for all this time, deserve to be protected as well.”

In response to a question, Pompeo said the administration can tell the difference between those who are terrorists and those who are not.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have been among the most effective U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS in north-east Syria, and the planned withdrawal of some 2,000 U.S. troops from the area has raised deep concerns about their fate.

That’s because the YPG is the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD), a Syrian group with ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and therefore viewed by Turkey as terrorists.

The PKK for three decades has been fighting a separatist struggle against the Turkish state, and the U.S. and the European Union – like Ankara – consider it a terrorist group.

Anadolu also quoted Kalin as saying in response to Trump’s tweets on Sunday, “It is a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds with the PKK, which is on the U.S. terrorists list, and its Syria branch PYD/YPG. Turkey fights against terrorists, not Kurds. We will protect Kurds and other Syrians against all terrorist threats.”

Erdogan, an Islamist, has long allied himself with Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group. Here he meets with the group's then leader Khaled Meshaal at the presidency in Ankara in 2015. (Photo: Turkish Presidency)

Troubled alliance

Trump’s stark warning about harming Turkey’s economy comes shortly after National Security Advisor John Bolton during a visit to Ankara was snubbed, and criticized by Erdogan.

The Turkish president was annoyed by a comment made by Bolton shortly before his arrival, to the effect that the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria would be carried out in such a way as to “take care of those who have fought with us against ISIS and other terrorist groups.”

Rather than meet with Trump’s national security advisor, Erdogan sent Kalin to the meeting, and then delivered a televised speech in which he called Bolton’s comments a “serious mistake” and vowed that “very soon, we will take action to neutralize terrorist organizations in Syria.” He made clear he was referring both to ISIS and the YPG.

Turkey is a NATO ally but relations with the U.S. have gone through rough patches over the past decade, as Erdogan pursued a foreign policy that included siding with Iran and aligning himself with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, while cracking down harshly on dissent at home.

For his part Erdogan is angry not only about the U.S. alliance with the YPG but also over Washington’s refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish Muslim cleric whom Ankara accuses of masterminding a failed coup attempt in 2016.

Since 2016 tens of thousands of Turks have been arrested and large numbers of civil servants and others purged over supposed links to the coup and Gulen.

Among foreigners swept up in Erdogan’s drive was American evangelical pastor, Andrew Brunson, who was behind bars or under house arrest for two years while on trial on terror and spying charges, until finally released and returned home last fall.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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