The Pentagon clarifies: the SDF and Turkey are not talking to each other

The U.S. Defense Department’s chief spokesman and Acting Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Charles Summers last week told reporters twice in the same press conference that the Turkish government and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were discussing a safe zone on the border of Turkey and Syria.

But there are no known direct consultations between Turkey and the SDF. Turkey views the People's Protection Units (YPG), the force that makes up backbone of the SDF, as the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey since 1984.

The PKK is designated as a terrorist organisation by both Turkey and the United States, but Washington armed, trained and assisted the SDF and together they defeated Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

Asked for clarification, another Pentagon spokesman, Sean Robertson, said the conversations to which Summers had referred, were indeed happening between the United States and Turkey, not between Turkey and the SDF. 

On Thursday, Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said a safe zone must be established under Turkish control.

Summers, on the same day at Pentagon said: "our Turkish allies and our SDF partners - we know that they have legitimate issues that they're discussing. And those discussions are ongoing." Summers also sent a written statement.

"We continue intensive discussions with Turkey to address security concerns along the Turkey-Syria border. Our engagements to date have been productive. We are confident that together with the coalition we will ensure a lasting defeat for ISIS in Syria, as well as meet the president's other Syria goals after we draw down U.S. forces including preventing a security vacuum that destabilises the area, addressing Turkey's legitimate security concerns, and protecting our partners in the fight against ISIS."

Ahmet Ünal Çeviköz, a member of parliament for Turkey’s main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), asked Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu whether Turkey was talking to directly to the SDF as Summers had implied.

But it appears, following clarification from the Pentagon, that Summers misspoke and the United States is talking to Turkey and the SDF about ways forward. It is still not clear how the United States and its coalition partners will manage to address both Turkey's concerns and protect the Syrian Kurds. While Turkey does not want any Syrian Kurdish forces on its border as it sees them as part of a terrorist network, the United States and its coalition partners see them partners against ISIS.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.