politics

Turkey Warns U.S. That Border Force Could Irreparably Harm Ties

Updated on
  • Planned offensive against Kurds to extend beyond Afrin
  • Erdogan tells NATO chief measures to be taken against threats

A member of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in Syria.

Photographer: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

Turkey warned the U.S. that the deployment of an American-backed, Kurdish-led force in northern Syria along the Turkish border could cause irreparable harm to the countries’ ties.

A planned offensive against the Kurds will be expanded beyond its initial scope, the government in Ankara added. The growing prospect of a military confrontation with U.S.-backed troops weakened the lira further.

Cavusoglu and Tillerson on Jan. 16.

Photgorapher: Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a meeting in Canada on Tuesday that the establishment of the border force could “seriously threaten our relations and we may enter an irreversible course.”

Measures taken against the Kurds “can’t be limited to Afrin, there is Manbij and east of the Euphrates as well,” Cavusoglu added, referring to border areas controlled by Kurdish forces to the east and west of the Euphrates River.

He said he also discussed the planned campaign with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis. Separately, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg late Tuesday that Turkey will take all necessary measures to counter any threats to its national security. Russian President Vladimir Putin is also in the loop, he said.

The tough talk builds on resentment that’s been percolating in Turkey for years over Washington’s support for Syrian Kurdish fighters who were instrumental in ousting the extremist Islamic State group from large swaths of territory it had seized in Syria.

Territorial Integrity

Turkey says the Kurds have designs on its territory and operate hand-in-hand with the armed PKK group that’s long fought for autonomy in southeast Turkey and is branded as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and European Union. It says a U.S.-backed plan to turn thousands of Syrian Kurdish fighters into border guards threatens Turkey’s territorial integrity, and it has been planning an offensive to push the Kurds out of the frontier area, beginning with Afrin.

Turkey moved more commandos, tanks and armored cars to the Syrian border on Tuesday as artillery units shelled Kurdish positions. The National Security Council on Wednesday discussed threats emanating from Syria, and ruling AK lawmaker Fevzi Sanverdi said a field hospital near the Syrian border was upgraded.

Turkey has threatened before to clear the border area of Kurds. But its opposition to the U.S.-backed border guard makes an offensive almost inevitable this time, military analyst Abdullah Agar said in a phone interview.

“Erdogan risks damaging his own charisma and leadership if he does not uphold his promise,” Agar said.

Lira traders digesting the risk of a military clash with the Washington-backed militia have sent the currency plunging more than 1 percent against the dollar so far this week, compared to gains of about 1 percent for the Mexican peso and South African rand.

The currency was trading 0.7 percent lower at 3.8218 per dollar at 3:11 p.m. in Istanbul on Wednesday.

— With assistance by Firat Kozok

(Updates with National Security Council meeting in eighth paragraph, analyst comments in 10th.)
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