The top US commander in the Middle East said Turkey has “legitimate security interests” in fighting back against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) but said that Turkish military operations have caused “friction” in the region, the National Interest reported.
The left-wing Kurdish rebel group has fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish government and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.
But the US is also backing the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led coalition in Syria that Turkey considers an extension of the PKK, which has strained US-Turkish relations.
“We agree that the PKK has been a terrorist organization, has attacked the Turks,” Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said at a Wednesday video conference hosted by the US Institute of Peace. “We share a different view of the SDF. We don’t believe that they are one and the same.”
The general also raised concerns about the ongoing Turkish military campaign in northern Iraq, which Turkey says is meant to drive out the PKK.
Critics have accused Turkish forces of hitting civilian targets and endangering Iraqi sovereignty.
A missile from a Turkish drone killed two Iraqi battalion commanders, Iraq claimed on Tuesday.
McKenzie claimed that the Turkish raids “induce additional friction” by adding “additional complexity” to the region’s conflicts.
“Obviously, when you’re striking targets, the potential for miscalculation is very high. The potential for collateral damage is very high,” he said.
“At the same time, Turkey does have, as I’ve said before, legitimate national security concerns,” McKenzie added. “They’re going to address those concerns.”
The general said he and US European Command commander Gen. Todd Wolters “have a good continual dialogue with the Turks.”
Turkey has attacked alleged PKK positions in Iraq for decades and invaded the Kurdish-majority Syrian territory of Afrin in early 2018 to drive out the SDF.