The State Department’s latest report on terrorism makes the same old mistake of refusing to look at the terrorist activities of YPG/PKK and FETO, despite their violations of international humanitarian laws.

The US State Department’s latest ‘Country Reports on Terrorism 2021’ perfectly sums up the state of Turkish-American bilateral relations. 

Despite the seemingly solid foundation and a long history of the alliance between Türkiye and the US, Washington has failed – over and over again – to look at Ankara’s concerns and needs with an unbiased eye.  

The long list of disagreements and tension between Ankara and Washington can be narrowed down to one dynamic: Washington’s negligence of Ankara’s national security and vital interests. Likewise, despite multiple points drawing Ankara’s ire in the report, it conveys one clear message: the US maintains its long-held policy of neglect towards Türkiye. 

Ankara has long been a target for multiple terrorist organisations ranging from Daesh to YPG/PKK and FETO, whose high-profile and deadly attacks on Türkiye are there for all to see. Such as the 2016 coup attempt and several bombing attacks by both Daesh and YPG/PKK in major Turkish cities. But Washington has failed to this day to share Ankara’s concerns. 

As can be seen in the tone and wording of the report, Washington opts for discrediting Türkiye’s counter-terrorism efforts, which in a way, plays into the hands of the very terror groups Türkiye fights against – by lending ‘credence’ to the propaganda of those groups. 

Although Türkiye had set its expectations from Washington very low long ago, even maintaining its neutrality between terror groups and its treaty ally seems like a big ‘favour’ to ask from Washington. It can’t help but keep discrediting Türkiye along the lines of the propaganda of terror groups.

Probably the thickest bone of contention between Ankara and Washington, the YPG/PKK’s ‘status’ as Washington’s ‘main counter-terrorism partner’ against Daesh under the mask of the so-called ‘Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)’ has been reiterated in the report.

This is also a reiteration of Washington’s snub at Ankara’s repeated warnings and protests against partnering with a terror group to ‘defeat’ another. While the existential threat posed by YPG/PKK to Türkiye is plain as day –as showcased by its numerous terror attacks both in the border regions and major cities of Türkiye- Washington has been, and is still, contributing to the organisational capacity of YPG/PKK, which is used to undermine Türkiye’s national security. 

Washington’s commitment to its partnership with YPG/PKK is so strong that even the ‘earthquake diplomacy’ between Ankara and Washington could not dilute it. Despite Washington’s fairly generous humanitarian aid to earthquake-stricken Türkiye and Secretary Blinken’s sympathetic messages during his visit, he did not refrain from reiterating Washington’s commitment to its partnership with YPG/PKK during the presser with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. Blinken carefully compartmentalised the post-earthquake solidarity atmosphere between the two countries and his government’s long-term YPG/PKK policy. 

What the architects in Washington of the policy of ‘partnering with YPG/PKK’ in Syria miss are the fact that the YPG/PKK is an ontological security matter for the Turkish state and people due to its secessionist agenda. 

By simply not paying heed to this concern, Washington is amplifying its ‘hostile’ image in the eyes of ordinary Turkish people, whose opinion will always shape the political choices and direction of the incumbent and all future governments. 

It is hard to believe that in the existence of a long-term vision in Washington for a shared future with Ankara, the US recklessly dynamites its prospects through such policies and acts. 

Washington’s disregard of Türkiye’s concerns towards FETO, the Fetullah Terrorist Organization whose members were the plotters of the 2016 coup attempt in Türkiye that killed 252 civilians, has been a colossal source of tension and distrust between Ankara and Washington. 

Washington not only did not act upon the evidence linking the cult to the coup attempt that Ankara provided but also continued hosting FETO’s ringleader, Fetullah Gulen, on its territory. The US also harbours scores of high-level FETO fugitives despite Türkiye’s insistent and repeated requests for extradition. 

As if this unneighbourly attitude has not been enough, the State Department characterised Ankara’s efforts against FETO as “politically motivated” in the report, which is nothing less than whitewashing the organisation and its crimes. Despite a huge body of evidence, Washington chooses to look the other way and even takes a deliberate political stance by voicing FETO’s arguments against Türkiye’s legitimate government. 

The State Department’s terrorism report is not only a hostile document with its discernible political perspective but also one with poor standards of accuracy. 

Certain aspects of the report are based on unsubstantiated media reports instead of the State Department’s assessment. These media reports seem to have been fed mostly by sympathisers of terror groups, judging by the striking overlaps between the reports and the long-standing talking points of the same terror groups. 

For instance, the terrorist group has frequently employed the tactic of sharing images that depict civilian grief and pain from other conflict zones, falsely attributing them to Turkish military operations. However, this misinformation has been repeatedly debunked by regional media organisations. Despite this, many Western media organisations and their correspondents amplify the YPG/PKK's disinformation through news reports and social media postings.

The fact that arguments and propaganda of terror groups inform Washington’s official political documents and even the policies themselves demonstrate the deeply flawed nature of Washington’s attitude towards Ankara. 

As a matter of fact, documents and statements are not the only hallmarks of Washington’s unacceptable approach to terror groups. The approach is based on deeply flawed policies that have been backed by acts. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley’s recent visit to northeastern Syria and his reiteration of Washington’s commitment to YPG as its main partner against Daesh drew Ankara’s ire. The US Ambassador to Türkiye Jeff Flake was also summoned to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an explanation. 

Likewise, a recent mysterious helicopter crash in northern Iraq’s Duhok raised further questions about Washington’s unholy relationship with YPG/PKK. 

As per the assessment of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), a few PKK members died in the crash, which naturally prompted the question: are PKK terrorists being enabled by CENTCOM to pilot helicopters as part of their training and capacity-building efforts against Daesh? 

The Pentagon denied providing pilot training to YPG/PKK-dominated SDF, but this does not answer why PKK members were on an unauthorized helicopter flight in northern Iraq. Moreover, even if PKK members did not pilot the helicopter themselves, the alternative scenario of a US serviceman piloting the helicopter for PKK is not less worrying, either. 

The extra military capabilities provided by the US to YPG/PKK in northern Syria over years have already been a source of anxiety in Türkiye. PKK terrorists on an aerial asset for an inexplicable ‘mission’ represents a breakthrough and a leap in the latter’s organisational capacity, which is not tolerable for Ankara. 

More than anything, it sends ambivalent signals about Washington’s intentions about the YPG/PKK. After all, the relationship between Washington and the terror group might turn out to be a strategic and a long-term one rather than a time-bound ‘tactical’ one limited to the ‘anti-Daesh’ mission. Unless satisfactory explanations are provided for the mysterious helicopter crash, long-term trust can not be established between Ankara and Washington. 

In light of the State Department report, the top US general’s Syria visit, and the mysterious helicopter crash, a change in Washington’s flawed attitude and hence an amelioration of bilateral relations is not within sight.

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Source: TRT World