The United States risks major damage to its relationship with NATO ally Turkey if the U.S. includes Kurdish forces in the fight to retake Raqqa controlled by the ISIL, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Thursday.
Turkey and the U.S. are locked in a heated dispute about U.S. plans to liberate Raqqa, with Turkey insisting its own military and allied forces in Syria should mount the fight and that U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds should be excluded.
Though the U.S. has been hoping to include both Turkey and Kurdish forces, Yildirim insisted Turkey wouldn't be part of any operation including the Syrian Kurdish force known as the YPG, considered by Ankara to be terrorists who threaten Turkey's security.
"If the U.S. were to prefer terrorist organizations over Turkey in the fight against IS, that would be their own decision, but that wouldn't be something we would consent" to, Yildirim told The Associated Press.
The prime minister also said "we would be actually happy if our friends were to be a bit more cautious about this issue."
In an earlier exchange with visiting foreign journalists, Yildirim said ties between the two countries would be significantly undermined, though he declined to name any specific steps Turkey — a member of the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS — might take in response. In the past, Turkey has hinted it could cut off access to Incirlik air base, home to coalition warplanes.
Yildirim insisted Turkey has proven its mettle, pointing to victories by its Operation Euphrates Shield in liberating northern Syrian towns of Jarabulus and al-Bab, AP reported.
"They know what our capabilities are," Yildirim said. "We've exchanged military info, and diplomatically speaking this message was also passed along."