Turkey says Kurdish armed groups in Syria ‘legitimate targets’

Ibrahim Kalin, the presidential spokesman, tells Al Jazeera that Ankara will target the Kurdish groups PKK, YPG and PYD to protect its borders.

The Turkish presidency spokesman told Al Jazeera that Kurdish armed groups in Syria are “legitimate targets” and accused them of exploiting ties with the United States to justify their presence along Turkey’s border with Syria.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara is going after the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its offshoots the Kurdistan People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Democratic Union Party (PYD) to protect its borders.

Ankara has blamed the outlawed PKK, YPG and their affiliated groups for the November 13 blast in Istanbul and previous attacks. The PKK has been waging a bloody armed uprising for autonomy in southeastern Turkey for decades. Ankara along with its NATO allies – the US and the European Union – have declared the PKK a “terrorist” organization.

“For us, all PKK, PYD, YPG establishments, elements, posts, military points are legitimate targets for us,” Kalin said during the interview with the Talk to Al Jazeera program whether they are in Syria or Turkey .

“They are legitimate targets because they are terrorist organizations,” he continued. “We go after them to protect our borders. We are not targeting Russian or US soldiers or military posts in Syria or anywhere else.”

Kalin went on to say that the “elements” of the PKK, PYD and YPG have historically used the flags of the US and Syrian regimes to “protect themselves”.

“That in itself shows the extent of the PYD and YPG using their alliance with the United States to legitimize their own presence in northern Syria,” he said.

The presidential spokesman said the recent “terrorist” attack on Istanbul’s Istiklal Street has prompted Turkey to respond. The perpetrator, a Syrian woman of Kurdish descent, was trained there by Kurdish fighters, the government said.

“Our first response was to coordinate and conduct some air operations,” Kalin said. “And of course, depending on the threat level as assessed by our intelligence community and our Department of Air Defense and related agencies, we will go after these terrorists, either from the air or from the ground.”

Turkey has stepped up its shelling and airstrikes against northern Syria in recent weeks and is preparing a ground invasion against the YPG, a predominantly Kurdish force that dominates the Syrian-based Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Ankara reportedly attacked several SDF military sites in Raqqa, Syria.

Belghan Ozturk, a security analyst, said the Istanbul bombing was “a red line for the stability of the Turkish state and national security”.

“So the YPG carried out missile strikes in retaliation for the Turkish airstrikes,” Ozturk said from Denver, Colorado. “Turkey wants to make sure that the YPG was unable to carry out further attacks – within Turkey and cross-border missile strikes.”

The delay could be due to the backlash Turkey has faced from several international powers involved in Syria, including Iran, Russia and the United States.

On Friday, SDF, which controls territory in northern Syria, said it would no longer participate in joint counter-terrorism operations with the US and other allies in the wake of the Turkish attacks. The SDF says it has documented about 70 attacks since the operation was announced.

A spokesman for the SDF said that “all coordination and joint counter-terrorism operations” with the US-led coalition fighting the remnants of ISIL (ISIS) in Syria, as well as “all joint special operations that we regularly conducted” had been halted.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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