Ankara hit back Monday at Donald Trump’s threat to “devastate Turkey economically,” saying Turkish forces will continue “counter terror efforts” in Syria.
Trump made the Twitter threat Sunday, warning Ankara against attacking U.S.-trained Kurds in Syria, and floating a plan to create a 20-mile safety zone along the southern Turkish border.
The president also warned the Kurdish group, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), not to provoke Turkey, and confirmed that the U.S. had started to pull troops out of Syria.
The tweet didn’t say who would police the safety zone, or where it would be located.
The posts threatening to devastate a fellow NATO member were met with anger in the Turkish capital, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week warned Washington it could not stop Turkish attacks on the YPG.
Responding to Trump’s tweets, Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun posted: “Turkey is the protector of Kurds, not their enemy. We have no quarrels with Kurds. Our issue is with PKK terror group and its Syrian arms. Turkey will decisively continue her counter terror efforts.”
Altun also retweeted a 2015 post from Erdogan saying “regardless of the cost, we will never allow a statelet to be formed in northern Syria and on Turkey's southern border.”
Erdogan spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, also weighed in, telling Trump that “terrorists can’t be your partners and allies.”
He added: “Turkey expects the U.S. to honor our strategic partnership and doesn’t want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda.”
While the U.S. has fought alongside the YPG in northern Syria against the Islamic State, Ankara views the group as a terrorist organization and an extension of outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, currently touring the Middle East, said in Riyadh Sunday that he was “optimistic” a deal could be reached with Turkey to protect Kurdish fighters but didn’t give any details.
Pompeo said the U.S. recognizes “the Turkish people's right and Mr. Erdogan's right to defend their country from terrorists but we also know that those fighting alongside us for all this time deserve to be protected as well.”
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Friday that his country continues to prepare for a military operation on the east of the Euphrates River in Syria against the YPG.
Trump’s latest comments follow weeks of confusion over the White House’s shifting Syria strategy.
The U.S. president shocked his own administration and allies in the Middle Eastern on Dec. 19 by announcing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria within a month. That time frame was subsequently extended to four months, before being extended indefinitely by National Security Adviser John Bolton.
The Pentagon confirmed Friday that the U.S. drawdown had begun.
Speaking in Jerusalem last week, Bolton said that the U.S. withdrawal from Syria was conditional on assurances from Ankara that the YPG would be protected — something Turkey has made clear they are not willing to provide. Those comments enraged Erdogan who refused to meet with Bolton when he visited Turkey after his trip to Israel.
Cover image: Donald Trump hosts a round-table discussion on border security and safe communities with State, local, and community leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House on January 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)