ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan laid into the United States, accusing it of supporting Kurdish militants on Monday, days after Turkish troops found the bodies of 13 Turkish soldiers, police and civilians abducted by Kurdish insurgents in a cave complex in northern Iraq.
Erdogan also took aim at a U.S. State Department statement that deplored the hostages' deaths, but added that the U.S. would condemn the deaths “in the strongest possible terms” if it is confirmed that they died at the hands of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
“You are with them and behind, them pure and simple,” Erdogan said, referring to Kurdish militant group as well as Syrian Kurdish groups linked to the PKK, which Turkey considers to be terrorists but which were allied with the United States in the fight against the Islamic State.
“If we are together in NATO, and if we are to continue our (alliance) in NATO, you have to be sincere toward us,” Erdogan said.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu expressed Turkey's “unease" over recent U.S. statements during a telephone call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, his ministry said.
In their first conversation since U.S. President Joe Biden's administration took office last month, the two also discussed other disagreements between the NATO allies and agreed to “develop an open and sincere dialogue based on mutual respect," the ministry said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken expressed condolences for the deaths of the hostages and “affirmed our view that PKK terrorists bear responsibility." Blinken also emphasized their shared interest in countering terrorism.
Earlier Monday, Turkey summoned U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield to the Foreign Ministry over the previous statement.
The victims were discovered in the Gara region, near the Turkish border, during an operation against the PKK that had aimed to free the hostages. Twelve of the victims were shot in the head and one died of a shoulder bullet wound. The 13 were kidnapped inside Turkey in 2015 and 2016.
Erdogan said 51 PKK militants were killed during the latest offensive and vowed to press ahead with cross-border offensives.
“We have the power, capability and determination to come down hard on the terrorists everywhere," Erdogan said.
In a statement carried by the PKK-linked Firat news agency, the PKK said “prisoners of war” consisting of members of the Turkish security forces and intelligence agency were killed as a result of Turkish air strikes.
Three Turkish troops also died during the operation to free the hostages and three others were wounded, the defense ministry has said.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union, began an insurgency in Turkey’s majority Kurdish southeast region in 1984.