Erdogan Warns U.S. Troops in Syria to Keep Away From Kurd Forces

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey’s leader lashed out against U.S. support of Kurdish militants in Syria, brandishing the prospect of an “Ottoman slap” after an American general threatened retaliation if his forces were hit by Turkey.

“It’s obvious that those who say, ‘If you hit us, we’ll hit back hard,’ have never in their lives gotten an Ottoman slap,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech at parliament on Tuesday, responding to remarks by the top U.S. commander in Syria to the New York Times. “If those who come and go as they like through Turkey think they’re going to go stirring things up in places without paying for it, they’ll soon see that’s not the case."

The comments mark an escalation in rhetoric against the U.S., whose backing of the Syrian Kurdish YPG has enraged Turkey, which labels the group as a terrorist organization and has invaded Syria to combat it. That incursion has created an unprecedented military faceoff between the two largest armies in NATO, with U.S. forces fighting alongside the YPG while Turkey attacks it.

“You hit us, we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves,” the U.S. commander, Lieutenant General Paul Funk, said in a direct warning to Turkey in the interview published on Feb. 7.

Tillerson Visit

Erdogan spoke two days before U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due to visit Ankara for what he said would be “tough talks” about Syria and other issues. The U.S. has been trying to urge Turkey to rein back its offensive against the Kurds, who’ve been instrumental allies for the U.S. in helping to defeat Islamic State. On Sunday, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster met in Istanbul with Erdogan’s aide Ibrahim Kalin, without word of a breakthrough.

“They can say whatever they want. Their security representatives came and their secretary of state is going to come, we’ll talk to them too,” Erdogan said. “But if things don’t go according to law and rights, this can’t be called a partnership or an alliance.”

While Erdogan said that Turkey wouldn’t deliberately target U.S. forces, he warned U.S. soldiers to keep their distance from the YPG on the battlefield.

“We’re going to destroy every terrorist we see,” Erdogan said. “Then they’ll understand that it’d be better for them not to stand beside them.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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