US Gen. Townsend: YPG not a threat to Turkey

Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend (right).

Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, who currently commands the Combined Joint Task Force against the Islamic State group, said on Wednesday that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) is not a threat to Turkey.

Speaking via video conference from Baghdad, Townsend told a Pentagon press briefing, “Of those YPG fighters, I’ve talked to their leaders and we’ve watched them operate and they continually reassure us that they have no desire to attack Turkey, that they are not a threat to Turkey, in fact that they desire to have a good working relationship with Turkey.”

The Turkish state has claimed on various occasions that the YPG has attacked, or has supported attacks in Turkey, from across the border in northern Syria. Townsend, however, told the briefing, “I have seen absolutely zero evidence that they have been a threat to, or have supported any attacks on, Turkey from Northern Syria over the last two years.”

To a question on Kurdish participation in the Raqqa operation, the general said, “Yes, I think if they are Raqqawis, they will go into Raqqa with all of the Arabs and all the Turkmen and everybody else.  Raqqa is – a significant majority of Raqqawis, as we refer to them – are Arabs.  But they’re like just about any other city in this region, and our own country, as a matter of fact. You’ve got a mix of peoples, right?  Ethnic and religious mixing in – in Raqqa, in the city and in the larger province around it. So, yeah, there will be Kurds attacking Raqqa and there’ll be Kurds in Raqqa. The size of that force, I don’t know. That’s still being considered.

“So yes, I expect there will be some Kurds that will participate. I don’t think we’re going to change the demographics of Raqqa by Kurds or Turkmen or any group participating in the operation. But I expect that probably all types of Syrians in northern Syria will participate in the liberation of Raqqa,” Townsend added.

Turkey had recently stepped up efforts to convince the US to ditch the Kurds for the operation against the Islamic State stronghold, saying its army and rebel groups it is supporting should participate in the operation instead.

Attacks by Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Manbij, held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the force leading the Wrath of Euphrates operation, is threatening to derail the assault on Raqqa, sources say.