ANKARA (Reuters) -Turkey on Monday summoned U.S. ambassador Jeff Flake to convey its discomfort about a top U.S. general visiting northeast Syria over the weekend, a foreign ministry source said.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said later on Monday that Flake went to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for meetings and discussions.
Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made an unannounced visit on March 4 to review a nearly eight-year-old U.S. mission to an area controlled by the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Price told reporters it was the State Department’s understanding that Milley met only with U.S. troops while in Syria and referred to the Department of Defense for details.
The SDF, the primary ally of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, played a key role in defeating Islamic State jihadists across Syria, but U.S. support for the group has been a source of tension with Turkey for years.
Turkey sees the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the spearhead of the SDF, as the Syrian wing of the outlawed separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and considers both as terrorist organisations.
The United States and the European Union have also designated the PKK as a terrorist group, but not the YPG.
(Reporting by Huseyin Hayatsever and Ali Kucukgocmen in Ankara and Simon Lewis in Washington; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Humeyra Pamuk and Hugh Lawson)