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US denies arming Syrian-Kurdish militia amid continued Turkey tensions

Afrin is one of three Kurdish cantons in northern Syria [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 December, 2016

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US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass has said that Washington is not arming Syrian-Kurdish militias viewed as a terrorist organisation by Ankara.

The US says it is not directly arming the Syrian-Kurdish group the People's Protection Units [YPG] amid growing tensions with Turkey.

In an interview with Turkey's NTV on Friday the US ambassador to Ankara John Bass said that Washington's strategy in Syria involved conducting military operations "in ways that do not create a long-term strategic problem for Turkey, our NATO ally".

He added that Washington does not support Syrian-Kurdish groups seeking to link together three cantons in northern Syria under Kurdish control.

"That is an important reason why we do not support, have never supported, connection of the so-called Kurdish cantons in Syria… [and] do not support anyone on the ground changing demography or changing political governance structures unilaterally based solely on their military success against Daesh [IS]."

Over the course of Syria’s civil war Kurdish forces have established three self-administered cantons collectively referred to as Rojava.

Afrin, located in Aleppo province, is separated from the eastern cantons of Kobane and Cizre by a 100 km stretch of land that is currently under the control of Turkey-backed rebels operating under the Euphrates Shield operation, with Turkish soldiers also on the ground in Syria. 

Ankara is wary of growing Kurdish autonomy in Syria, and is currently waging an ongoing war against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a separatist Turkey-based Kurdish group that has waged a guerrilla war against Ankara since the 1980s. 

The Erdogan government views Syrian Kurdish groups including the YPG - the armed wing of the Kurdish Union Democratic Party (PYD) - in particular, and also the Kurdish-majority Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as extensions of the PKK. Turkey-backed rebels have frequently clashed with such groups in Syria since the Euphrates Shield operation began in August.

Washington has tasked the SDF with leading an assault on the Islamic State group's de facto capital in Syria, Raqqa, causing anger in Ankara.

Speaking on Friday, Bass defended the Obama administration’s continued supply of arms to the SDF. While admitting that the PYD was part of the SDF Bass denied that Washington had directly supported the YPG.

"We have been providing support to Syrian Arab groups working under the umbrella of what's called the Syrian Democratic Forces. That umbrella group also includes the PYD," Bass said. "But we have not been providing direct support, we have not been providing weapons, we have not been providing ammunition to the PYD."

Kurdish groups in Syria have previously expressed their desire to link the three cantons of Afrin, Kobane, and Cizre.

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