Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said on Wednesday that Kurdish militants’ facilities and infrastructure in Syria and Iraq are “legitimate targets” for his government following a suicide bombing attack in Ankara over the weekend. He pledged an “extremely clear” retaliation.
“From now on, all infrastructure, superstructure and energy facilities of the PKK and YPG, especially in Iraq and Syria, are the legitimate targets of our security forces, armed forces and intelligence units,” Fidan said, using acronyms for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Fidan said Turkish authorities had established that the two assailants who carried out the attack on Sunday were trained in Syria and had traveled to Turkey from there.
The bombing, which left the two assailants dead and two police officers wounded, struck outside the national headquarters of Turkey’s police on Sunday and was the first to be claimed by the PKK inside Ankara since 2016.
Fidan’s remarks came after a key security meeting hosted by Turkey’s Defense Minister Yasar Guler in Ankara earlier Wednesday. Fidan and Guler as well as Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya, intelligence chief Ibrahim Kalin and Turkish armed forces chief Metin Gurak discussed the steps to be taken in Turkey’s fight against terror after Sunday’s attack, Turkey’s Haberturk TV reported.
Later Wednesday, Guler expanded the scope of the threat to YPG’s political arm the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) as he reiterated his country’s threats for Syria and Iraq in an uncommon video message shared on social media.
Guler said they want everyone to know that all of the PKK and YPG as well as PYD “facilities and activities will be our legitimate target from now on, as they have been until today. Our fight against terrorism will continue with increasing intensity, perseverance and resolve until terrorists disappear from this geography.”
The PKK, which has been fighting against Turkish forces for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey since 1984, is considered a terror organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union. Ankara equates the PKK with the YPG, the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is the major ally of the US-led international coalition in the fight against the Islamic State.
Warning to “third parties”
Fidan also warned “third parties” to stay away from what he described as “legitimate targets.”
“I advise third parties to stay away from PKK and YPG facilities and individuals. Our armed forces’ response to this terrorist attack will be extremely clear and they will once again regret committing such an action,” he said.
Turkey has been pressing Washington for years to sever its ties with the SDF and withdraw some 900 US special operations forces from the Kurdish-run autonomous region in northern Syria. Biden administration officials insist the US troops will remain in northeast Syria indefinitely to keep a lid on the remnants of the jihadist terror group.
The top Turkish diplomat didn’t elaborate further on Ankara’s plans, but his remarks appear to formalize a warning Turkish officials have been relaying their American counterparts behind closed doors since at least last year that they couldn’t guarantee the safety of US soldiers if they co-locate with the YPG.
Last year, a blitz of Turkish airstrikes in northeast Syria, including one near the headquarters of top SDF commander Mazloum Kobane, led CIA director Bill Burns to exchange terse words with Fidan, his then-counterpart. The United States has trained, funded and armed the YPG in Syria to fight against the Islamic State group on the condition that it not pose any threat to Turkey, a key NATO ally. Washington’s approach to its defeat-IS campaign in Syria has exacerbated already fraying ties with Ankara in recent years.
Ankara’s latest warnings also signal a looming escalation in Syria amid a series of assassinations of high-level YPG officials that American military sources say appears designed to erode morale and undermine the long-term cohesion of the multiethnic SDF alliance.
The Turkish armed forces also conducted three large-scale military operations against Syrian Kurdish groups. Among the infrastructure of the SDF-controlled areas, oil facilities in the northern Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor province stands out as a key source of income for the Kurdish-led self rule in Syria.
The SDF, in turn, dismissed Turkey’s warnings as “pointless” allegations, urging the international community to take action amid fears of a new military escalation in northern Syria. Elham Ahmad, co-president of the SDF executive committee, wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, “The Turkish government is routinely using drones to attack our cities, and now it is threatening to hit the infrastructure in our region, where there are 5 million people living, including [the internally displaced]. The International community must take action before it’s too late.”
Rift between Ankara and major Iraqi Kurdish party grows
In addition to the SDF’s Western allies, Fidan was likely alluding to the northern Iraqi Patriotic Union Party, one of the two major political parties dominant in the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Turkey has been increasingly vocal in slamming the PUK over what Ankara describes as “increasing PKK activities” in northern Iraqi regions where the PUK is influential. In April, a suspected Turkish drone struck near a convoy containing Kobane, near the Sulaimaniyah airport. US special operations forces were in the convoy.
Earlier this month, Turkey’s defense minister implicitly threatened the PUK by openly naming the party’s co-leader Bafel Talabani. “Bafel Talabani is being persistently warned about the increase in terrorist activities in Sulaimaniyah: Please cut off your ties with the terrorist organization. We know and follow all of their activities,” Guler told Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper. “We do not want to take a more drastic move. These things have been openly and repeatedly conveyed. But no one has yet come to their senses.”
Since Sunday’s attack, Turkey has been conducting fresh airstrikes on PKK bases in northern Iraq’s mountains. With fresh strikes on Wednesday, the number of targets hit increased to 58, the Turkish Defense Ministry said Wednesday. Baghdad has condemned the Turkish strikes and ongoing military operations against the PKK bases in the country on the grounds of violation of its territorial sovereignty. Iraqi Defense Minister Thabet Mohammad Al-Abbasi is set to visit Turkey on Thursday to meet with Guler, Turkey’s state broadcaster reported Wednesday.