Erdogan spokesman slams U.S. military for backing Syrian Kurdish militia

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman lashed out at the U.S. military on Thursday after it re-tweeted a statement by a Kurdish-dominated alliance that Washington backs in Syria saying it had no links to Kurdish militants fighting the Turkish state.

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan addresses district governors at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, January 10, 2017. Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

The Syrian Democratic Forces, the main U.S. partner on the ground in Syria in the fight against Islamic State, includes the powerful Kurdish YPG militia.

Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the PKK militant group, which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey and is considered a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.

“SDF confirms that it has no affiliation or ties to PKK,” U.S. Central Command said on Twitter, re-tweeting a statement by the SDF in which it said it was not part of the PKK and wanted a strong relationship with neighbours including Turkey.

“Is this a joke or @CENTCOM has lost its senses?,” Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, replied.

“Do you believe anyone will buy this? The U.S. must stop trying to legitimize a terrorist group.”

U.S. support for the YPG has been a major sticking point between Washington and Turkey, a NATO ally and a member of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State.

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Turkey is hoping that the incoming U.S. administration under President-elect Donald Trump will re-think its policy in Syria and stop providing support to Kurdish YPG militia fighters, who are affiliated with the PYD political party.

“We hope that Trump and his administration will listen to what Turkey says and correct this mistake,” Defence Minister Fikri Isik said in a speech at an ambassadors’ conference.

In a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson talked of “recommitting” to the Syrian Kurds and constructing a renewed coalition using the forces already in Syria, “including the Syrian Kurds who have been our greatest allies”.

Tillerson also spoke of re-engaging with traditional U.S. allies in the region, saying Russia and Iran were dictating developments in Syria without U.S. participation.

“We have to re-engage with President Erdogan in Turkey, this is a long-standing NATO ally who, in the absence of American leadership, got pretty nervous about his situation and he turned to who was next available,” Tillerson said, an apparent reference to Moscow and Tehran.

Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Daren Butler and Gareth Jones