Turkey warns against backing Kurdish militia in Syria

Turkey warns against backing Kurdish militia in Syria
Turkey has warned the United States and Russia it will not tolerate Kurdish territorial gains by Kurdish militia close to its frontiers in north-western Syria, senior officials said.
4 min read
14 October, 2015
President Erdogan has been under fire since Saturday's bombing in Turkey's capital [AFP]

Turkey has summoned US and Russian envoys to warn against supplying arms and support for Syrian Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State group (IS) in Syria, a Turkish official said on Wednesday.

"The US and Russian ambassadors were called to the ministry yesterday (Tuesday) to convey Turkey's views about the PYD (Democratic Unity Party)," the foreign ministry official told AFP. "Necessary warnings were issued." 

Turkey labels the PYD as the Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged a bloody insurgency since 1984.

US-led coalition forces have parachuted in ammunition to anti-IS rebels in northern Syria, stepping their backing for groups battling the group.

The move follows the Pentagon's announcement last week that it would halt its much-criticised programme to train moderate rebels, and instead focus efforts on equipping pre-screened rebel leaders from groups actively fighting IS.

Russia is intervening in Syria with bombing raids in support of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. A top Russian official last week held talks with PYD leader Salih Muslim to discuss the fight against IS.

Ankara bombing

The news comes after a twin suicide bombing of a pro-Kurdish rally in Ankara on Saturday, which killed at least 97 people.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted security shortcomings and the interior ministry on Wednesday fired Ankara's top police chief and two other officials.

There has been growing anger against Erdogan and the government for alleged security lapses over the worst attack in modern Turkey's history Saturday where two suicide bombers blew themselves in a crowd of peace activists.

Announcing the first dismissals in the wake of the disaster, the interior ministry said the chief of Ankara police Kadri Kartal as well the head of the city's police intelligence and security departments had been sacked.

It said they had been removed on the suggestion of investigators "to allow for a healthy investigation" into the atrocity.

In his first public remarks over the bombings, Erdogan admitted there were security shortcomings but said their magnitude would be made clear only later.

"There must undoubtedly be a mistake, a shortcoming in some place. Of what dimension? This will emerge after examinations," he told reporters late Tuesday.

With pressure growing to dismiss Interior Minister Selami Altinok, Erdogan said: "If there's any negligence of duty, then both the prime minister and related units will take steps needed. Nobody should doubt it."

He announced that he ordered the State Supervisory Council, an inspection body attached to the Turkish presidency, to undertake a special investigation "to handle (the attack) from a different perspective".

Its probe will be held in parallel with the regular police and judicial investigation. The DDK has in the past probed state-sensitive issues like the death in 1993 of former president Turgut Ozal, which many regard as suspicious.

An information ministry official told AFP that two people with alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party had been detained on suspicion of having prior knowledge of the attack and sharing the information nine hours prior to the attack on Twitter.

Erdogan on Wednesday made his first visit to the attack site outside Ankara's main railway station, laying flowers for the victims alongside visiting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.

Syria link

Without giving further details, Erdogan said on Tuesday that Turkey had received intelligence indicating that the Ankara attack may be linked to Syria, where IS jihadi fighters have captured swathes of territory up to the Turkish border.

There have been growing indications that the authorities are focussing on possible parallels or even links to a July 20 suicide bombing at a peace rally in Suruc on the Syrian border that killed 34.

The government blamed IS for that attack, which also targeted a gathering of pro-Kurdish and leftist activists.

Over the weekend and on Monday, police arrested dozens of people with suspected links to IS in cities stretching from the Mediterranean resort of Antalya to the southern city of Adana.

Erdogan said the Ankara attack culprits will be brought to justice but warned "some patience is needed" as DNA tests are carried out on the remains of the two suicide bombers.

The attack has raised political tensions to new highs as Turkey prepares for a 1 November snap election, with polarisation within the country now greater than ever.

The attack targeted thousands of people gathering for a peace rally of union, leftist and Kurdish activists criticising the government's current offensive against Kurdish militants.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which lost several members in the blasts, has accused the authorities of, at the very least, severe negligence over the bombings.

In protests after the blasts, demonstrators have held up banners such as "killer Erdogan" and "we know the killer!" The authorities have angrily ridiculed claims of state complicity in the attacks.

The government has said the Islamic State (IS) group is the prime suspect behind the attack, which also injured more than 500, but has also named the PKK.