Erdogan: NATO gives arms to 'terrorists' but not to Turkey

President accuses NATO allies of supporting 'terrorism' with thousands of truckloads of weapons, but none for Turkey.

    Erdogan: NATO gives arms to 'terrorists' but not to Turkey
    President Erdogan addresses supporters during an election rally on Saturday in Istanbul, Turkey [Umit Bektas/Reuters]

    President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused NATO allies of supporting "terrorists" with thousands of truckloads of weapons while ignoring Turkey's request to buy their arms.

    "What kind of NATO alliance is this?" Erdogan said on Monday during an election campaign rally in southwestern Turkey's Burdur region.

    "You give terrorists around 23,000 truckloads of weapons and tools through Iraq, but when we asked, you won't even sell them to us," he added. 

    "We have a 911-kilometre border [with Syria]. We're under threat at any moment."

    Erdogan did not specify which nations were allegedly supplying arms through Iraq.

    190116081756141

    US-allied 'terrorists'

    Turkey also expects Syria's Manbij region to be rid of "terrorists" and left to locals as soon as possible, said the Turkish leader.

    Manbij has been held by the United States-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia spearheaded by the Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG), since 2016.

    This has angered neighbouring Turkey, which views the influence wielded by the YPG in northern Syria as a national security threat.

    Ankara considers the YPG a "terrorist group" with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey. PKK has waged a decades-long armed conflict in the country, killing an estimated 40,000 people.

    Ankara has threatened to target Manbij in a military operation to wipe out the YPG. 

    But the Kurdish militia has been Washington's main ally in the ground war against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS) in Syria for several years. The US has warned Turkey against attacking the YPG.

    US withdrawal

    Tensions have risen in Syria since US President Donald Trump's surprise announcement of the withdrawal of about 2,000 American troops from the country who operate alongside Kurdish forces in Syria's northeast.

    The SDF commander-in-chief, Mazloum Kobani, called on Monday for about 1,000 to 1,500 international forces to remain in northern Syria to help fight ISIL. He expressed hope the US, in particular, would halt plans for a total pullout.

    "We would like to have air cover, air support, and a force on the ground to coordinate with us," Kobani told a small group of reporters after talks with senior US generals in Syria.

    Kobani thanked Trump for publicly stating his intent to protect the SDF but said: "I want him to live up to his word."

    US Army General Joseph Votel, head of Central Command, said after talks with Kobani he was still carrying out Trump's order for a complete withdrawal of US forces.

    "We certainly understand what they would like us to do, but of course that's not the path we're on at this particular point," Votel told reporters.

    Asked about any discussions on a continuing US presence in Syria, Votel said: "So the discussion really isn't about US forces staying here. We've looked at potentially what coalition [forces] might be able to do here."

    Turkey attack?

    Turkey has for years criticised the US for supplying weapons and training to the YPG - one of the most potent ground forces in the fight to defeat ISIL.

    Days after Trump's December pullout announcement, Erdogan pledged Turkey will take over the fight against the remnants of ISIL in Syria, and announced the operation against the YPG was on hold for now.

    190108094851818

    Since then, the discussion has included the establishment of a "safe zone" in northern Syria, but Turkey has insisted the area must be free of the YPG and under its control. 

    The Kurdish fighters say any such zone must have "international guarantees … that would prevent foreign intervention". 

    Without a deal with the US-led coalition, analysts say Kobani may have to strike a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to avoid a Turkish sweep or ISIL revival.

    It remains unclear which NATO allies will send their troops once US forces depart.

    A French diplomat said Europeans would not provide troops when it was completely unclear what the objectives of such a safe zone would be, or how this would monitored or guaranteed.

    "For now, there is no plan," the unnamed diplomat told Reuters news agency.

    Turkey FM: Kurdish YPG in Afrin are a security threat

    Talk to Al Jazeera

    Turkey FM: Kurdish YPG in Afrin are a security threat

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies