President Donald Trump has threatened Turkey, a NATO ally, with economic devastation if it attacks U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria after American troops withdraw from the country.
His warning was met with sharp rebuke from Ankara.
YPG, a mostly Kurdish militia group, has been supporting U.S. efforts to defeat the Islamic State in northern Syria. Turkey, however, considers YPG an extension of the far-left Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an insurgency group listed as a terrorist organization by NATO and the U.S.
Ankara has long said that it plans to attack the YPG in Syria — a threat it reiterated last week. “We are determined on the field and at the table,” said Turkey’s foreign minister of the planned attack, according to CNBC. “We will decide on its timing and we will not receive permission from anyone.”
Trump tweeted Sunday that the U.S. would “devastate Turkey economically if they hit” its Kurdish partners. “Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey,” he added, noting that a “20-mile safe zone” could be created after the Americans withdraw from Syria.
Trump, however, did not elaborate on this safe zone plan, including who would build or pay for its creation and enforcement.
Ankara on Monday responded with anger to Trump’s warning.
Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin suggested in a tweet that the U.S. was making a “fatal mistake.”
“Terrorists can’t be your partners & allies. Turkey expects the US to honor our strategic partnership and doesn’t want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda,” Kalin wrote.
As The New York Times noted, this is the first time that Trump has publicly threatened Turkey over the Kurdish fighters.
His tweets threaten to undermine Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s efforts to strike an agreement with Turkey to protect the Kurds, the paper added.
Pompeo, who is currently touring the Middle East in an effort to allay allies’ fears about the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, had reportedly been “optimistic” about reaching such a deal.