US says PYD not terrorist under US law
The US Department of State deputy spokesperson, Marie Harf, has said the Kurdish forces that received air-dropped weapons from the US to support their fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Kobani are not considered a terrorist organization under US law.
“The Democratic Union Party [PYD] is a different group than the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK] legally, under United States law,” said Harf on Monday.
The US military air-dropped tons of weapons, ammunitions and medical supplies to the PYD over the weekend, after notifying Turkey about the aid to the Kurdish fighters.
Turkey previously stated that it would not support any kind of weapons transfers to the Kurdish fighters who are allied with the PKK in Kobani. The PYD, the Syrian branch of the outlawed PKK, has been fighting against ISIL militants in the Syrian town of Kobani near the Turkish border. The PKK is classified as a terrorist organization by the US, Turkey and the European Union.
On Saturday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan received a phone call from US President Barack Obama and was notified about the air-dropped aid to the PYD forces.
Asked whether the US believes the PYD is not the same as the PKK, Harf said: “They are not the same under United States law. No.”
The differences in the Middle East policies between the US and its NATO ally Turkey are becoming clearer every day. Turkey’s priority is to remove the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, while the US focus is on defeating the immediate threat of ISIL in the region. Turkey pushes for the establishment of a safe zone and a no-fly zone in the area, but the US says that that is not part of its plans. The US pushes Turkey to provide support to the coalition against ISIL, and Turkey seems reluctant and is becoming a target of international criticism because of its reluctance.
According to Harf, when Obama called Erdoğan on Saturday to discuss the situation in Kobani and the steps that could be taken to counter ISIL advances there, the US president “notified” him about the air drops that the US would be taking.
She also said US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu last Friday to discuss the air-drop issue as well, adding that “we made clear why we believed it was important to take these air-drops to support the fighters pushing back against ISIL in and around Kobani.”
When asked why the aid is air-dropped instead of delivered via a land route through Turkey, Harf said the US continues to discuss with the Turks on a variety of levels ways they can work together on fighting ISIL.
Harf also welcomed the statement of Çavuşoğlu saying that Turkey is assisting peshmerga forces to cross into Kobani to fight against ISIL, adding that those conversations are ongoing.
Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said on Tuesday that the peshmerga has not started to cross into Kobani yet. “The talks are continuing. There has not been any change in our position. We have always been candid about what needs to be done in Syria and against ISIL. And we have been very clear about the Kobani issue. We don’t want Kobani to fall,” he said during an interview with the private NTV television station.
Marie Harf disagreed with the notion that there is a split between the US and Turkey on how to fight against ISIL. “Overarching goals here are exactly the same. We have constant conversations about tactics and strategy and how we should go about that,” she said.
When asked whether the US went ahead with arming the rebels in Syria without seeking the consent of the Turks, Harf said it is not about consent.
“We notified them — the president and the secretary did — of our intent to do this and had discussions with them about why we believe this is an important thing to do in this fight against ISIL around Kobani,” she said.
Echoing what Kerry said on Monday, Harf said the US understands the fundamentals of Turkey’s opposition to arming the PYD and the challenges that Turks have faced with the PKK.
“Their [Turks’] participation in the coalition is not defined by any one action they are or aren’t taking,” said Harf, after a journalist questioned Turkey as an ally, if the US had to go through northern Iraq rather than Turkey for its air-drop assistance to the Kurds.
Harf stressed that Turkey is playing a key role in the coalition.
“They are taking a number of steps. They’ve cracked down on foreign fighters, they’re looking at anti-financing, and they’ve agreed to host part of the train and equip program. So that’s a pretty significant number of steps they’ve taken, and we constantly talk to them about what more they could do. So I don’t think it’s fair to look at any one thing they are or are not doing and judge their participation in this coalition,” said Harf.
“In this case, the Iraqi Kurds had weapons that could be used by the Kurds and others fighting around Kobani. We had the ability to air-drop them. And that’s what happened,” she added.
Asked whether Turkey did play any role in the air-drop operation, Harf said she will let Turks speak for themselves, but this was a US air-drop operation using Iraqi Kurdish material.
Turkey’s shift on international press
The UK Times newspaper reported on Tuesday that members of an elite counterterrorism unit trained by the US Special Forces have had their leave canceled and been ordered to travel to the besieged Syrian city of Kobani to fight ISIL. The daily claimed that Turkey may benefit from this and pointed out the shift in Turkey’s position, by allowing peshmerga forces to cross into Kobani.
According to the report, Turkey’s influence across its borders will increase with this move.
The Financial Times on Tuesday said Turkey has yielded to US pressure and opened its territory for Kurdish fighters to relieve the besieged Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, “in a striking U-turn” that followed weeks of tensions between Washington and Ankara over the way in Syria.
Ankara’s shift came after the US supplied Kobani’s defenders with weaponry despite Turkey’s objections amid warnings that it could continue to arm them if Turkey failed to allow Iraqi fighters into the border town.