Defense Secretary Mark T.
Esper, New York, November 11, 2019.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper urged Turkey on Monday to stop holding up support for a NATO defense plan for the Baltics and Poland, as Ankara presses the alliance to support its fight against U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG militia in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava).
In an interview with Reuters ahead of the NATO summit, Esper warned Ankara that “not everybody sees the threats that they see” and added he would not support labeling the YPG as terrorists to break the impasse.
He called on Ankara to focus on the larger challenges facing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“The message to Turkey … is we need to move forward on these response plans and it can’t be held up by their own particular concerns,” Esper said as he flew to London.
“Alliance unity, alliance readiness, means that you focus on the bigger issues – the bigger issue being the readiness of the (NATO) alliance.
And not everybody’s willing to sign up to their agenda.
Not everybody sees the threats that they see.”
NATO envoys need formal approval by all 29 members for the plan to improve the defense of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia against any threat from neighboring Russia.
The dispute, as NATO prepares to hold its 70th anniversary summit, is a sign of deep divisions between Ankara and Washington over everything from the war in Syria to Turkey’s growing defense relationship with Russia.
Turkey wants NATO to formally recognize the Kurdish YPG militia, the main component of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the de facto army of the autonomous Kurdish region in Syrian Kurdistan, as terrorists and is infuriated that its allies have given the militia support.
Ankara has blamed Washington for the current impasse, saying it was caused by the U.S.
withdrawal of support from a separate defense plan for Turkey, covering any possible attack from the south where it borders Syria.
Asked whether Washington might agree to branding the YPG as terrorists in order to break the deadlock, Esper said: “I wouldn’t support that.”
“We’re going to stick to our positions, and I think NATO will as well,” Esper said.
The issue is the latest source of friction between the NATO allies, which have also been at loggerheads over Turkey’s purchase of advanced Russian air defenses, which Washington says are incompatible with NATO defenses and pose a threat to Lockheed Martin Corp’s (LMT.N) F-35 stealth fighter jets.
Washington said in July it was removing Turkey from the F-35 program and has warned of possible U.S.
senators pressed the Trump administration on Monday to impose sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of the Russian missile defense system and said the failure to do so sent a “terrible signal.”
The Kurdish Democratic Union Party PYD and its powerful military wing YPG/YPJ, who are respected and appreciated all over the world, considered the most effective fighting force against IS in Syria and U.S.
has provided them with arms.
The YPG, which is the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces SDF forces, has seized swathes of Syria from Islamic State.
The Kurdish forces expelled the Islamic State from its last patch of territory in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz in March 2019.
11,000 Kurdish male and female fighters had been killed in five years of war to eliminate the Islamic State “caliphate” that once covered an area the size of Great Britain in Syria and Iraq.
Syria’s Kurds have established a semi-autonomous region in northeastern Syria during the country’s eight-year war.
In 2013, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party PYD — the political branch of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — has established three autonomous Cantons of Jazeera, Kobani and Afrin and a Kurdish government across Syrian Kurdistan in 2013.
On March 17, 2016, Kurdish and Arab authorities announced the creation of a “federal region” made up of those semi-autonomous regions in Syrian Kurdistan.
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