Following a trilateral summit with the two other Astana Format nations, Iran and Russia, Turkey demanded that the US leave eastern Syria and end its support for Kurdish militia groups there.
“America has to leave east of the Euphrates now. This is an outcome that came out of the Astana process,” Erdogan said on Wednesday, according to the state-owned Anadolu Agency.
“Türkiye expects this as well because it is America that feeds the terrorist groups there,” he said, referring to the People’s Defense Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia that forms the core of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that the US forces in eastern Syria support as a proxy force in order to deny control over the oil-rich region to the Syrian government in Damascus. However, Washington claims it supports the SDF as part of the fight against Daesh terrorists, Sputnik reported.
“You see that the American staff there train members of the terrorist organization,” Erdogan continued.
“During this training, they are waving the flag of the regime there. Why? Their job is to commit a terrorist act against the Turkish soldiers there. Here, too, they think they are deceiving the Turkish army by waving the regime’s flag there. We won’t be fooled,” he added.
Turkish forces crossed the Syrian frontier into eastern Syria in October 2019 in what Ankara called Operation Peace Spring, driving more than 300,000 Kurds from a 20-mile-deep strip along the border in order to halt the movement of Kurdish groups across the border. Another Kurdish militia, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), has fought against the Turkish government in eastern Turkey for decades and is closely allied with the YPG in Syria. The PKK also has bases in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region, which Ankara has also launched several military operations against.
The 2019 offensive created a difficult situation for the US, as the YPG was already receiving US support via the Train and Equip program, and Turkish forces passed American border posts in the opening stages of the offensive in order to attack their allies.
Turkey also previously intervened to attack Kurdish areas further to the west, in the Afrin and Manbij regions, in 2018, which it called Operation Olive Branch, and continues to support al-Qaeda-aligned groups in Idlib, the last major outpost of extremist forces left in Syria after years of war.
The Astana process was created in 2018 in large part to avoid open war between Turkey and the militias on one side, and the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies on the other.
More recently, Erdogan has used his country’s membership in the NATO alliance to compel Sweden and Finland, which applied to join NATO earlier this year, to give up their support for Kurdish groups by threatening to veto their NATO applications. A deal was finally hammered out at the NATO summit in Madrid in late June, although the relevant nations have continued to quibble over what exactly was agreed to in Madrid.