Turkey’s deputy PM has accused France of supporting terrorism by siding with the Kurds. It comes after the French president met representatives of the Syrian Kurdish militias in Paris and expressed his country’s support for them.
Emmanuel Macron met a delegation from Syria on Thursday, which included the YPG, the Kurdish militias, as well as the Kurds’ political arm, the PYD. The president’s office later released a statement of support for the Kurd-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which played a key role in the US-led coalition’s effort to crack down on jihadist group Islamic State in northern Syria.
“The president… paid tribute to the sacrifices and the determining role of the SDF in the fight against Daesh,” the statement said, referring to the jihadists by their Arab-language abbreviation.
“He assured the SDF of France’s support for the stabilization of the security zone in the northeast of Syria, within the framework of an inclusive and balanced governance, to prevent any resurgence of Islamic State.”
The statement did not elaborate on how exactly Paris plans to support the SDF, but PYD member Khaled Eissa told Reuters after the meeting that Macron promised to send more French troops to the area, provide humanitarian assistance, and push for a diplomatic settlement of the conflict between the Kurds and Turkey.
Ankara considers the YPG to be an extension of the Turkey-based Kurdish militant group PKK, which for decades has fought a guerrilla war against the Turkish government. Turkish forces are currently conducting a military operation in north-western Syria, targeting Kurdish militias while Turkish officials repeatedly threatened to move further east along the border.
France’s public support of the YPG angered Ankara, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announcing a further military crackdown on Syrian Kurds on Friday, potentially going further into Iraq. He warned that while Turkey had no intention of harming the troops of its NATO allies deployed in Syria, he would not allow their presence to serve as protection for “terrorists.” He also rejected France’s mediation between Ankara and the YPG.
Earlier, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the French statement was an act of “open support for terrorism, terror groups, and terrorists; an attempt to legalize terrorist groups; and clear cooperation and solidarity with the terror groups attacking Turkey.” The remarks posted on his official Twitter account also warned that those supporting terrorism “will become a target of Turkey” and that he hoped that France would not take “such an irrational step.”
The diplomatic spat between Paris and Ankara comes just as the US, another principal supporter of the Syrian Kurds, is considering the withdrawal of troops from Syria. “We’re coming out of Syria very soon. Let the other people take care of it now,” President Donald Trump said in a speech on Thursday.
A Pentagon plan to forge a “border security force” in northern Syria triggered the Turkish military operation targeting the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in January. The Kurdish town of Manbij, where US troops backing the SDF are stationed, was repeatedly named in Ankara as a possible target for a Turkish offensive.
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