Syria war: Turkey hits out at US over Kurds comments

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Turkish soldiers with tanks return from Syria to Turkey after a military operation at the Syrian border as part of their offensive against the Islamic State (IS) militant groupImage source, EPA
Image caption,
Turkey is fighting IS as well as Kurdish forces inside Syria

Turkey has hit out at the United States over criticism of its ongoing role in the conflict in Syria.

Turkish forces have targeted so-called Islamic State (IS) inside Syria, but have also gone after Kurdish fighters in the same region.

The pursuit of Kurdish forces, whom Ankara considers terrorists, has led to criticism by the United States.

Ankara contacted the US ambassador on Wednesday over comments the foreign ministry called "unacceptable".

A US military spokesman had expressed hopes on Tuesday that, rather than see Turkey pursue Kurdish fighters, "all parties involved are going to stop shooting at each other and focus" on IS.

On Wednesday, Russia added its voice, with the foreign affairs ministry calling on Turkey to avoid strikes in Syria on opposition and ethnic groups fighting Islamic State, including Syrian Kurds.

"Turkey is a sovereign state, it is a legitimate state," said Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik.

"To suggest it is on a par with a terrorist organisation and suggest there are talks between them, that a deal has been reached between them, this is unacceptable."

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Wednesday that "operations will continue until all terrorist elements have been neutralised, until all threats to our borders, our lands and our citizens are completely over".

The foreign ministry phoned US ambassador John Bass on Wednesday morning.

While Ankara and Washington are allies, the US depends on Kurdish forces for support in attacking IS in northern Syria.

However, Turkey has insisted Kurdish militia, which it regards as terrorists, retreat east across the Euphrates river.

Turkey has been fighting a Kurdish insurgency in its south-east for decades and fears Kurdish gains in northern Syria will fuel Kurdish separatism at home.

Media caption,

BBC's Paul Wood explains why the Syria conflict is so complicated

Turkish forces and allied factions of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) forced IS out of the Syrian border city of Jarablus a week ago and have since pounded neighbouring villages held by Kurdish-led, US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF).

The Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG), which dominates the SDF, says its forces have withdrawn, and that the Turkish action against the group was a "pretext" for occupying Syria.

At the weekend, the US Defence Secretary Ash Carter called on Turkey to stay focused on the fight against IS and not to engage the SDF.

He said the US was "very supportive" of Turkey's general counter-IS activities and its efforts to secure the border - but not the area south of Jarablus.

Media caption,

The BBC has obtained exclusive footage of the offensive against Islamic State in Jarablus, as Mark Lowen reports

Separately, a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised EU states for their response to a failed coup in the country last month.

Ibrahim Kalin said it was unacceptable that EU countries had not sent high-level representatives to Turkey after the coup attempt, which the presidency says was planned by supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a powerful US-based Muslim cleric.

EU officials had spoken of their concern at a crackdown led by Mr Erdogan on state institutions in the wake of the coup attempt.