Turkey vows to keep attacking US-backed Syrian Kurd forces
ISTANBUL (AP) -- Turkey on Wednesday vowed to keep attacking a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia inside Syria, saying it will never negotiate with what it considers to be a "terror organization."
The defiant rhetoric is likely to set back U.S. expectations of a halt in the fighting between Washington's two allies in the region, both of whom are also fighting the Islamic State group in Syria.
Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish force an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, a domestic group that Ankara has declared a terrorist organization.
Last week, Turkey sent its troops and warplanes to back Syrian rebels in their advance on Jarablus, a town near the Turkish border and the next IS-stronghold after Manbij. Turkey's incursion helped the rebels take Jarablus from the Islamic State group, but clashes subsequently broke out in the area between Turkish and Kurdish forces - both U.S.-allies.
Turkish troops clashed with the U.S.-backed Kurdish Syrian forces around Jarablus to try to halt their advance and form a contiguous corridor on the border between Turkey and Syria.
On Tuesday, the Kurdish-backed Jarablus Military Council said in a statement that it had agreed to a cease-fire with the Turkish military in a disputed area in northern Syria after lengthy consultations with the coalition.
However, Turkey's minister of EU affairs, Omer Celik, on Wednesday dismissed those reports, while the spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said such a deal was "out of the question," insisting the Kurdish Syrian militiamen will remain a target for Turkey until they move east of the Euphrates River.
The fighting between Turkey's military and the Kurdish forces has raised concern in the United States that it could detract them from the battle against the Islamic State group and frustrate anti-IS efforts by the U.S.-led coalition. Washington has appealed on both Ankara and Syrian Kurds to stop fighting each other.
Celik told the Anadolu news agency that "to suggest (Turkey) is on a par with a terrorist organization and suggest there are talks between them, that a deal has been reached between them, this is unacceptable."
Erdogan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, reinforced those remarks, telling reporters in Ankara that Turkey will not negotiate with the Syrian Kurdish group, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party or the PYD. Turkey says the group is an arm of Turkey's outlawed PKK.
"The PYD, as the Syrian extension of the PKK, is a terror organization," Kalin said. "It is out of the question for the Turkish Republic to have any kind of a tie, an agreement ... with this organization."
Kalin said Turkey will keep attacking the Syrian Kurdish militia unless they fully withdraw to the east of the Euphrates River. "They (the Syrian Kurdish fighters) remain a threat for us until they cross east of the Euphrates."
He added that Erdogan is now engaged in a diplomatic push to secure a broader cease-fire in Syria during the upcoming three-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which would allow aid to reach the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo. Erdogan will hold discussions on the issue during the G-20 summit in China, he added.
Also Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said military operations in Syria "will continue until all terrorist elements have been neutralized, until all threats to our borders, our lands and our citizens are completely over."
He reiterated Turkish calls that Washington has to live up to its assurances that the Syrian Kurdish forces withdraw east of the Euphrates and that the pullout immediately takes place.
The Pentagon earlier said the Turkish forces had in fact moved to the west, while Kurdish forces had moved east of the Euphrates River, in compliance with Turkish and U.S. authorities.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.