has bristled at the US
military’s alliance with Syrian Kurds to fight ISIS
, fearing the Syrian group will one day help Turkish Kurds make a push for independence. Turkey
has sent its troops to attack a Kurdish enclave in Syria
and it threatens to push into a town where US
forces train Kurds and others, leading the Pentagon to warn Ankara
“It is clear that those who say, ‘We will respond aggressively if you hit us,’ have never experienced an Ottoman slap,” Erdogan said in response on Tuesday, according to news reports.
Erdogan’s comment was just the latest salvo from an ally who has accused the US
of complicity in a coup attempt, eroded democratic norms within the country, jailed Americans on flimsy grounds and detained US
Beyond threats about a clash with US
forces, Turkey’s move to attack the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwest Syria
could undermine the coalition fight against ISIS
, as Kurdish YPG fighters who are helping the US
rout the terrorist group in the east have begun leaving to help their compatriots in Afrin.
At the State Department, spokesman Heather Nauert brushed off Erdogan’s “slap,” saying, “We’re used to that kind of rhetoric.” On the road in Jordan
, Tillerson calmly stressed the long game.
is still an important NATO ally of the United States, they’re still a very important partner in the region for us, and we need to find a way to continue to work in the same direction,” Tillerson told reporters in Amman. He stressed that the two countries still share goals for Syria
and the US
recognizes Turkey’s security concerns.
“So we hope to have talks about how we can work cooperatively to lessen those threats to Turkey
but ultimately achieve the objective in Syria
, which is the full and enduring defeat of ISIS
, the de-escalation of violence in Syria,” and progress with peace talks that stabilize Syria
, Tillerson said.
But Tillerson “has a tough set of meetings and a tough job ahead of him when he’s in Ankara,” said Ross Wilson, who was the US
ambassador to Turkey
from 2005 to 2008. “It’s a very fraught time,” Wilson said. “There’s an immense amount of tension in US-Turkey
Luke Coffey, director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, noted that “a lot of [Erdogan’s] rhetoric is for a domestic audience, and it’s not new.”
Repaired or completely damaged
Turkish bitterness escalated after the US
aligned with the YPG in 2016, which proved to be the most effective fighting force on the ground against ISIS
, said Wilson, who’s now a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council. Wilson added that the “decisions to cooperate with the YPG have been military ones, not strategic ones about calibrating the relationship with Turkey. It’s almost transactional. This is what we’ve had to do to combat ISIS.”
The White House, signaling its sensitivity to Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns,” sent National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to Istanbul
on Sunday to underscore that message over the weekend, but his Turkish counterparts weren’t receptive.
After McMaster’s meetings, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that Turkish-US
ties had hit a critical point, and would either be repaired or completely damaged.
announcement in mid-January that it would form a 30,000-strong Kurdish-led border force in northeastern Syria
sparked this heightened period of US-Turkey
Erdogan accused the US
of “building an army of terror” on his border and, in extraordinary language from a fellow NATO ally, threatened to “drown” the US-backed force.
While the US
backed away from the plan and Tillerson said it had been “misportrayed, misdescribed,” tensions escalated as Turkey
moved into Afrin. It has since threatened to push further to Manbij, where US
Special Operations Forces are supporting Syrian Kurds.