Erdogan accuses US of being 'behind' Kurdish militants after 13 hostages are killed as US-Turkey tensions grow

  • Erdogan accused the US of supporting a Kurdish militant group Turkey says killed 13 hostages.
  • The US initially said it was unconfirmed the group, the PKK, killed the hostages.
  • Tensions between the US and Turkey have been escalating for years.
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday lashed out at the US and accused it of being in cahoots with Kurdish militants after 13 Turkish hostages were killed in Iraq. 

Turkey said that Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which both Ankara and Washington regard as a terrorist organization, was behind the killings. The State Department acknowledged the deaths in a statement on Sunday, but said it had not yet been confirmed that the PKK was behind them. 

Erdogan ripped into the State Department for not immediately blaming the PKK, decrying the agency’s statement as “a joke,” per Reuters.

“You clearly support them and stand behind them,” Erdogan said of the US and the PKK. “If we are together with you in NATO, if we are to continue our unity, then you will act sincerely towards us. Then, you will stand with us, not with the terrorists.”

The US alliance with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which dates back to 2015 under the Obama administration, has consistently been a source of tension between Ankara and Washington. Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — the dominant fighting force in the SDF — as a terrorist organization. It also essentially sees the PKK and YPG as synonymous, though the YPG has denied any explicit or direct organizational links with the PKK. 

In what appeared to be an effort to restore Turkey’s confidence in the US, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday in a call with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday “affirmed” the US view that PKK terrorists bear responsibility” for the deaths of the hostages. The call was made after Turkey summoned the US ambassador following the State Department’s initial statement on the incident. 

The heated Turkish response to the Biden administration over the killings underscores the heightened tensions between the US and Turkey at the moment. Though he’s spoken to a number of world leaders since his inauguration, President Joe Biden has not yet had a phone call with Erdogan. Biden during his 2020 campaign referred to Erdogan as an “autocrat.”

Turkey is regarded as an important NATO ally by the US, but Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian policies and bellicose foreign policy — as well as the purchase of a Russian missile defense system — has generated a growing rift between Washington and Ankara.

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