ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey is uncomfortable with US plans to set up "observation posts" in Syria along parts of its border with Turkey, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said today.
PHOTO PHOTO: Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar talks with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis during a meeting of NATO defense ministers at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on October 4, 2018. REUTERS / Francois Lenoir
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said today that the United States is setting up places to maintain focus on the liberation of the last militant strongholds of the Islamic State in Syria.
The United States has long complained that tensions between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – including the Syrian YPG Kurdish militia – have sometimes slowed progress in the fight against the Islamic State.
Akar said he told the chief of staff, Joseph Dunford and other US officials during a recent visit to Canada that the establishment of posts would have had a very negative impact on US perceptions in Turkey.
"During our talks with political and civil interlocutors, we have repeatedly expressed our unease in various ways," he said. "I think actions like this will make the complicated situation in the region even more complicated."
Turkey is angry with US support for the YPG, which sees it as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which embarks on a decade-long insurgency on Turkish soil. The PKK is designated as a terrorist group from Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
"No one should doubt that the Turkish armed forces and the Republic of Turkey will take the necessary steps against all kinds of risks and threats coming from its borders," he said.
"We expect our US allies to immediately stop their ties with the YPG terrorist, who are not the least bit different from the PKK," Akar added.
The Islamic state is still present in eastern Syria in a pocket east of the Euphrates River, near the border with Iraq.
The administration of President Donald Trump hopes that the US-backed struggle against the Islamic State in its latest grip in northeastern Syria will end in a few months. But a senior US diplomat recently said that American forces will remain to ensure the "lasting defeat" of the militant group.
Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Hugh Lawson