The United States is "two-faced" for refusing to call the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units terrorists, Turkey's foreign minister said on Friday, reflecting Ankara's growing irritation at Washington's backing of the group.
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Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also said it was "unacceptable" for U.S. soldiers to wear the People's Protection Units' – also known as the YPG militas – emblems, after photos emerged purportedly showing U.S. special forces wearing YPG emblems on their shoulders.
"Our suggestion to them is that they should also wear Daesh [ISIS] Al-Nusra and Al-Qaida insignia during their operations in other regions of Syria," said Cavusoglu. "They can also wear the Boko Haram insignia when they go to Africa."
AFP later reported that the troops active in Syria had been ordered to remove the patches in question, saying that it was "unauthorized and inappropriate."
NATO member Turkey regards the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency for autonomy in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast. Washington considers the PKK terrorists but backs the Syrian Kurdish militia in the fight against Islamic State.
The YPG is the most powerful element of the U.S.-backed Syrian militia alliance involved in an offensive near the Islamic State's de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa. Aided by U.S.-led airstrikes, the YPG has driven Islamic State from wide areas of northern Syria over the last year.
"If they say 'We don't see the YPG and these terrorist groups as the same,' my answer is, that is a double standard and two-faced," Cavusoglu said at a UN summit in Turkey's Antalya resort.
"It is unacceptable for U.S. soldiers to use the insignia of the YPG, a terrorist group," he said.
Ankara had raised the issue with the State Department.
Asked at a briefing on Thursday if it was appropriate to wear such insignia, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook declined to comment on the photos but said that when special forces operate in some areas they do what they can to blend in with the community to enhance their own security.
A different explanation was forthcoming however, from Maj. Tiffany Bowens, a spokesperson for U.S. Special Operations Forces in the Middle East, who told Foreign Policy Magazine that "U.S. Special Operations Foreces and their counterparts typically swap unit patches as a method to build trust," though she noted the practice is officially against uniform regulations.
The United States does not consider the YPG to be a terrorist group.