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'US ties with YPG are hurting relations with Turkey'

The slide in Turkish-U.S. ties was "inevitable" due to America’s ties with the PYD/PKK terrorist organization, an expert on Mideast terrorism told Anadolu Agency.

"I think looking at the very beginning of the U.S. relationship with the YPG, what’s happening right now, a really serious deterioration in American-Turkish relations was completely inevitable," Charles Lister, a senior fellow and director of the Extremism and Counterterrorism Program at the Middle East Institute, said on Wednesday.

Lister said it was clear that the Turkish government was going to come to odds against the PYD/PKK, the Syrian off-shoot of the terrorist PKK, which Turkey is now fighting in Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syria.

In its 30-year terrorist campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- recognized as a terrorist group by the U.S., EU, and Turkey -- has taken some 40,000 lives, including women and children.

"The American government was not going to stop its support to the SDF and the YPG,” he said, referring to the PYD/PKK’s armed wing the YPG, and the Syrian SDF, a force dominated by the PYD/YPG/PKK.

"I do think the American government has put itself in a pretty tricky situation,” he added.

“I mean before 2014 when the [mainly Kurdish-populated town in Syria] Kobani operation started, the U.S. government national counter-terrorism center, which is responsible for assessing terrorist organizations around the world, labeled the YPG the Syrian affiliate of the PKK," Lister said.

In 2014, the PYD/YPG/PKK received support from the U.S.-led coalition against Daesh after the battle at Kobani.

The U.S. views the PYD/YPG/PKK as a "reliable partner" in its fight against Daesh and continues to provide it with arms and equipment against strong objections by Turkey, which has documented how it is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror group.

Despite the judgement of the counter-terrorism center, Lister said that once the U.S. started working with the PYD/YPG/PKK, language on the center’s website identifying the groups as terrorist was deleted.

"Interestingly, the CIA has just restarted labeling the YPG the Syrian affiliate of the PKK this year, which is an interesting change,” he added, saying that the CIA and the Defense Department seem to have differing views.

Lister said this was not "entirely" surprising, but added that the inconsistency within U.S. policy is a problem.

He said hoped both Washington and Ankara realize at some point that the deteriorating relations are in neither country’s interest.

 

'Feeling abandoned by NATO, US'

On whether the U.S.' policy on Syria is pushing Turkey closer to Russia, Lister said Ankara has its reasons for closer ties with Moscow.

"I think if Turkey feels like it’s being abandoned by NATO, by the U.S., it will of course seek out other relationships, and the most obvious one in northern Syria is the Russian government," he explained.

Lister said there would be no similar kind of relationship with Iran for geopolitical and historical reasons, adding that Russia has stepped in as a "potential" arbiter and mediator.

But he said believed such closer ties with Russia are not in Turkey's "best interest", saying at some point that Ankara and Washington will come to improve relations.

 

'The YPG benefits from US support'

"I think the broader point that still stands is that American support for the YPG in northeastern Syria obviously will benefit the YPG in the northwest whether weapons are shared or not," Lister said.

Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch now focuses on Afrin, northwestern Syria, but Turkish leaders have said that after Afrin, it will continue to Manbij, northeastern Syria.

U.S. and PYD/YPG/PKK forces -- receiving U.S. weapons and support -- are stationed in Manbij, and the U.S. forces there have resisted Turkey’s calls for them to leave.

He added that when a group becomes stronger in one corner of the country, the same group will become stronger in the other corner of the country.

Lister said the PYD/PKK can get weapons from many different places, adding: "The YPG has excellent sources of access to finance from custom duties and checkpoints."

On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin, northwestern Syria.

According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as to protect Syrians from terrorist oppression and cruelty.

The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey's rights based on international law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights under the UN charter, and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, it said.

The military also said only terror targets were being destroyed and the "utmost care" is being taken to avoid harming civilians.

* Safvan Allahverdi contributed to this report from Washington.

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