Turkish Foreign Minister: Our Offensive Against Kurdish Fighters is Unrelated to US Troop Pullout

By Patrick Goodenough | January 10, 2019 | 11:19pm EST
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Washington on June 4, 2018. (Photo: U.S. Embassy Ankara)

(CNSNews.com) – Turkey’s planned military offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria is unrelated to President Trump’s plans to withdraw U.S. forces who have been supporting those fighters and will happen according to Turkey’s own timeline, the country’s foreign minister said on Thursday.

Mevlut Cavusoglu told Turkish news channel NTV that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had announced the planned operation well before Trump announced last month his decision to pull out the military personnel, and the offensive would go ahead whether the withdrawal takes place or not.

“Turkey will do whatever is necessary against a terror organization posing a threat on its national security,” he said. “We will not seek permission from anyone.”

Cavusoglu’s comments came two days after National Security Advisor John Bolton discussed the troop withdrawal plan with senior officials in Ankara and made clear that the U.S. was opposed to any mistreatment of fighters in Syria who have played a key role in the campaign to defeat ISIS.

Erdogan skipped the meeting with Bolton, instead giving a televised speech to his party’s lawmakers in which he slammed Bolton for comments earlier this week relating to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Bolton had said while visiting Israel that the Syria pullout 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.”

U.S.-backed YPG fighters have been some of the most effective in the fight against ISIS in Syria, but Ankara views them as terrorists, linked to Kurdish PKK separatists in eastern Turkey.

In his speech coinciding with Bolton’s visit, Erdogan called the national security advisor’s comments a “serious mistake” and declared, “Very soon, we will take action to neutralize terrorist organizations in Syria.”

Erdogan said Turkey would take on the YPG in the same way it confronts ISIS, adding that Turkey draws no distinction between the two organizations.

Like Erdogan, Cavusoglu also lumps the YPG and ISIS together when referring to battling terrorists in Syria.

“ISIS or the YPG/PKK, they are all the same to us,” Cavusoglu said a day after Bolton’s visit, and, as Erdogan has done, suggested that there are divisions inside the Trump administration over the decision to pull out the 2,000 troops from Syria.

“We see that the U.S. is having difficulties in its decision to withdraw from Syria,” Hurriyet quoted him as saying. “It must be difficult to leave after having been so intertwined with the terrorist organization.”

In his comments on Thursday, Cavusoglu implied that some members of the administration have fallen under the YPG’s sway.

“When you are in engagement with a terror organization, you cannot save yourself of its influence,” Hurriyet quoted him as telling NTV. “It’s not right for such a huge country, a NATO ally, despite our long-standing cooperation, to speak like the supporter of a terror organization and to make up an excuse in order not to pull [the troops] out.”

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