Turkey struck hundreds of U.S.-backed Syrian rebels Thursday, just a week before a visit by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
The jets struck the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-organized rebel force predominantly composed of Kurds. The Turkish military confirmed the strikes, saying they killed between 160 and 200 fighters in 26 distinct strikes, according to Reuters.
The strikes are likely a defiant message to Carter that Turkey is deeply dissatisfied with U.S. policy in Syria. The SDF is key part of U.S. strategy in Syria. The U.S. has nearly 300 U.S. special operators embedded with the group, and relies on them to retake key cities from ISIS. Current U.S. plans to retake ISIS’s capital city of Raqqa, relies heavily on a fully capable SDF, reports indicate.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan regards Syria’s Kurds as much of a threat, if not more so, than the Islamic State. Turkey invaded northern Syria in late August, in large part to prevent the establishment of a de-facto Kurdish state. “We will not wait until the blade is against our bone and skin, we will not wait for terrorist organizations to come and attack us,” Erdogan said of the operation.
Erdogan’s strikes are the latest sign of tensions between the U.S. and Turkey. He reportedly believes the U.S. did not react strongly enough to condemn the attempted coup against him in July 2016. Erdogan believes a that a U.S.-based cleric is responsible for the coup, and demands his immediate extradition. U.S. officials say they cannot extradite the cleric unless evidence suggests he is guilty of the crime, drawing criticism from Ankara.
Erdogan also recently finalized a major energy deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a sign of a larger rapprochement after Turkey shot down a Russian jet in November 2015. “Erdogan is flirting with Russia as a trump card against the US,” former Turkish member of Parliament Aykan Erdemir recently told Business Insider.
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