U.S. view of SDF differs from Turkey - top U.S. commander in Middle East

(Re-leads with comments on SDF)

Ankara and Washington share differing views on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with the United States, unlike Turkey, not seeing the group as linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the top U.S. commander in the Middle East said.

But Turkey maintains legitimate security concerns against the outlawed PKK, National Interest cited General Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, as saying on Wednesday.

The SDF is dominated by the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia. Turkey sees the YPG as en existential threat due to its links the outlawed PKK, which has been fighting an armed insurgency for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey since 1984. 

Ankara has for years regularly launched air strikes into northern Iraq against the outlawed PKK, based in Iraq’s Qandil mountain range, the latest of which - Operation Claw-Tiger - started in June. 

Turkey’s attacks on the armed group in northern Iraq are causing “additional friction” to the region’s conflicts, the commander added.

“We agree that the PKK has been a terrorist organization, has attacked the Turks,” McKenzie said. “We share a different view of the SDF. We don’t believe that they are one and the same,” he added, referring to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, who are dominated by the PKK-linked People's Protection Units (YPG) militia.

Turkish raids in the region “induce additional friction” by adding “additional complexity” to the region’s conflicts, McKenzie said.

“Obviously, when you’re striking targets, the potential for miscalculation is very high. The potential for collateral damage is very high,” the U.S. commander added, noting however that Turkey has legitimate national security concerns that “They’re going to address.”

He and U.S. European Command commander General Todd Wolters “have a good continual dialogue with the Turks,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie also said that Ankara has real reasons to be worried about in neighbouring war-torn Syria.

“Bottom line would be, we do recognize that Turkey has concerns about what flows over the border into metropolitan Turkey, and what goes on in Syria and other parts of the theater,” he said.

Turkey has also conducted three military operations into northern Syria targeting Kurdish forces.