Turkey has legitimate security concerns in Syria, senior U.S. commander says

The United States must recognise Turkey’s legitimate security concerns in Syria, General Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said on Wednesday.

“Turkey is a significant NATO ally, so we are always going to try to find a way to work with them whenever we can,” McKenzie said in an interview with the Beirut Institute, a think-tank focused on the Arab region.

The United States was instrumental in the creation of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of militias dominated by the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG), which spearheads the campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS).

But Turkey regards the YPG as the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it has been involved in an internal conflict with since 1984.   

Differences over the SDF have been a long-standing cause of tension in U.S.-Turkey relations, leading former U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw of U.S. troops from Northern Syria, paving the way for a Turkish military operation against the group.

Trump’s decision was partially reversed following international outcry, including in the United States. Joe Biden described the withdrawal as “selling-out” the SDF, leading to speculation he would take a more assertive stance in favour of the group.

But in his first remarks since Biden became U.S. president, General McKenzie struck a concilatory tone towards Ankara.

The CENTCOM commander said Turkey has “very reasonable and understandable security interests” in preventing PKK attacks and will “continue to play a role” in Northern Syria.

Despite some frictions, Turkey had been “good to work with”, he added.

CENTCOM is responsible for the defence of the U.S. interests in the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia.