Kurds Mount Deadliest Attack in Turkey in More Than a Year

(Bloomberg) -- Kurdish separatists killed seven Turkish soldiers in their deadliest assault in more than a year, as tensions between the U.S. and Turkey heighten over Washington’s failure to withdraw American-backed Kurdish forces from a strategic Syrian town.

The roadside bomb attack on Thursday targeted an armored army vehicle near the southeastern town of Gercus, according to the governor’s office in Batman province. It came after Turkish forces killed dozens of autonomy-seeking PKK militants over the past month in strikes on the group’s bases in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq.

A flare in violence in the country’s Kurdish-dominated southeast has fueled Turkey’s concerns over gains by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in neighboring Syria, whom Ankara sees as an affiliate of the PKK. While the U.S. Embassy in Ankara promptly denounced Thursday’s attack, and expressed solidarity with Turkey against terrorism, the two countries have been at odds for years over the U.S. backing of the Syrian Kurdish YPG forces.

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said a June deal for the pullout of Kurdish forces from the Syrian town of Manbij near Turkey’s border has been stalled by U.S. inaction.

‘Big Problem’

“This delay tactic is really starting to become a big problem,” Kalin told a news conference after Wednesday’s cabinet meeting. The U.S. says there are few Kurdish forces left and that the remainder will leave as joint U.S.-Turkish patrols of the town take hold. The U.S. supported the YPG because it saw it as the only force capable of fighting Islamic State in northern Syria.

Erdogan has repeatedly denounced the U.S. for arming and training the YPG, calling them a menace to its own territorial integrity. Turkey has battled the PKK since the 1980s, and the group is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara, the U.S. and European Union.

Frictions over the Syrian Kurdish forces compound other points of contention between the NATO allies.

Last month, Washington imposed sanctions on Turkey for not freeing U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, who is currently under house arrest after spending two years in jail over his alleged role in the failed 2016 attempt to depose Erdogan and his government.

Brunson denies any wrongdoing and is due to appear in court on Oct. 12. The pastor’s lawyer petitioned Turkey’s top court for his release on Wednesday, adding that he would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights if Brunson isn’t freed. A Turkish appeals court refused to release the pastor last month, raising the prospect of further U.S. sanctions targeting Erdogan’s government and renewed market turmoil.

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