President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said today that some 30,000 trucks filled with weapons, ammunition and military equipment were sent to Kurdish-led militants in northern Syria.
In an apparent criticism of the United States’ support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey sees as a terrorist organization, Erdoğan said that the assistance provided to the group doesn’t follow international law and politics.
“On the one hand, you defend the fight against terrorism, and on the other hand, you indulge terrorists like this,” Erdoğan said in a speech he made in the TRT World Forum conference in Istanbul.
“It’s such indulgence that 30,000 trucks filled with weapons, ammunition and military equipment are being sent to northern Syria through Iraq. How can those who say ‘I’m the world’s strongest’ explain this?” he added, while refraining from mentioning the U.S. directly.
“Where in democracy, international politics and international law of war is this?” he also said.
Erdoğan’s remarks came amid Turkey’s military offensive in northeastern Syria, dubbed Operation Peace Spring, was put on pause as part of a 120-hour ceasefire.
Turkey launched its offensive on Oct. 9 in order to clear its border from the YPG, a Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—a group that’s designated as a terrorist organization by Ankara, Washington and the European Union.
Another aim of the military operation is to ensure the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland via the establishment of a “safe zone.”
While the incursion began following U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement regarding U.S. troop withdrawal, relations between Ankara and Washington rapidly deteriorated when the offensive kicked off.
The release of a letter penned by Trump to Erdoğan in a surprisingly undiplomatic tone added to the tension between the two NATO allies.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, alongside a U.S. delegation, visited Turkey on Oct. 17 and a ceasefire decision was given after his meeting with Erdoğan.
According to the agreement, Turkey is set to cease its offensive for 120 hours in exchange for the withdrawal of YPG militants.
During his speech on Oct. 21, Erdoğan said that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) “never sat at the table with terrorists.”
“Others can and that doesn’t really interest us, but it’s utterly important in that it shows what international politics, law of war and struggle against terror has come to,” he added.
Erdoğan also reiterated his previous criticisms aimed at NATO.
“Did YPG become a member of NATO?” he asked, as a response to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said that he was “concerned” about the incursion.
The president also slammed those who changed their minds about attending TRT World Forum in protest of Ankara’s military offensive, saying that they “[support] terrorist organizations.”
“I think that those who changed their minds about giving speeches in protest of Operation Peace Spring, which Turkey launched to clear the area of terror, can’t accept democracy and that they support terror groups,” Erdoğan said.
Saying that he is set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Oct. 22, Erdoğan noted that the ongoing process in Syria will be discussed in the meeting.
Earlier in the day, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also gave a speech in the forum, during which he denied claims regarding Turkey using chemical weapons in Syria, saying that the country has never used those weapons in the past.
“There are no chemical weapons in our inventory,” Çavuşoğlu, adding that the allegations constitute “black propaganda.”
“We, our soldiers and our army are very sensitive on this issue. We can’t accept any violation on this,” he also said.
Saying that Erdoğan has ordered all allegations to be investigated, Çavuşoğlu noted that these claims surfaced because “they tried to set up a terror state and we spoiled their game.”
During his speech, Çavuşoğlu said that the YPG has been attacking Turkey since the beginning of the incursion, while adding that all Kurdish militants need to withdraw within the 120-hour-long ceasefire.
Çavuşoğlu also commented on the issue a day earlier, saying that Turkey and Russia will discuss the removal of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia from the northern Syrian towns of Manbij and Kobani during talks in Sochi.
In an interview with broadcaster Kanal 7, Çavuşoğlu said Turkey expected the YPG to be removed from areas where the Syrian government, backed by Moscow, has deployed in northern Syria. He said Turkey did not want to see a single YPG fighter left in the “safe zone” at the end of the truce period.
Another official to speak in TRT World Forum was Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who said that the YPG has been receiving extensive financial support from “our allied countries.”
“All of the weapons given to the YPG are being used against us,” Akar said, adding that Turkey’s only aim in launching Operation Peace Spring is to protect its borders and “fight against terrorism.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, meanwhile, has said that 12 Syrian prisons holding foreign militants as well as eight refugee camps have been left unguarded as a result of Turkey’s operation.
Speaking in China on Oct. 21, Shoigu said there was a risk that the militants could escape and try to leave the region in order to return to their home countries.