Turkey would not agree to any US arms transfers to Kurdish fighters who are battling Islamic State (Isis) militants in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying on Sunday, as the extremist group fired more mortar rounds near the Syrian-Turkish border and fighting around the besieged town of Kobani intensified.
Turkey views the main Syrian Kurdish group, the PYD, and its military wing which is fighting Isis militants as an extension of the PKK, which has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terror group by the US and Nato.
Washington has said recently that it has engaged in intelligence sharing with Kurdish fighters and officials have not ruled out future arms transfers to the Kurdish fighters.
“The PYD is for us, equal to the PKK. It is a terror organisation,” Erdogan told a group of reporters on his return from a visit to Afghanistan. “It would be wrong for the United States with whom we are friends and allies in Nato to talk openly and to expect us to say ‘yes’ to such a support to a terrorist organisation.”
Erdogan’s comments were reported by the state-run Anadolu agency on Sunday.
In Washington, the Texas senator Ted Cruz, a presumed candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, criticised President Barack Obama for not aiding the Kurdish fighters.
“We have dropped a bomb here and a missile there, but it has been a photo-op foreign policy,” Cruz said.
Turkey’s opposition to arms transfers to the Kurdish forces, meanwhile, is hampering the US-led coalition’s efforts to fight the extremists and further complicating relations between Turkey and Washington. The countries are involved in negotiations about Ankara’s role with the US and Nato allies fighting the Islamic State group, which is attempting to capture Kobani.
Turkey has demanded that the coalition widen its campaign against the militants by providing greater aid to Syrian rebels, who are battling both Isis and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Turkey has so far provided sanctuary to an estimated 200,000 Syrians fleeing Kobani, and recently agreed to train and equip moderate Syrian rebel fighters trying to remove Assad from power.
The White House said President Barack Obama spoke to Erdogan on Saturday about the situation in Kobani and steps that could be taken to counter Isis advances.
“The two leaders pledged to continue to work closely together to strengthen cooperation against [Isis],” a statement said.
Fighting between the militants and the Kurdish fighters defending Kobani continued on Sunday. Mortar strikes hit the town, sending plumes of smoke into the air. Three mortars also fell on the Turkish side of the border, landing in an open field where they caused no injuries. On Saturday and Sunday, Isis appeared to be targeting the border crossing area, potentially in a bid to hamper Kobani’s last link to the outside world.