Turkey slams US after commando pictured wearing Kurdish insignia in Syria

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Foreign minister criticises US 'hypocrisy' after soldier displays YPG badge, which Ankara says is a terrorist organisation linked to PKK

A US soldier displaying the insignia of the YPG, which Turkey considers a terrorist group (AFP)
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Last update: 
Friday 27 May 2016 11:20 UTC
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Turkey has accused its ally the United States of "hypocrisy" after an American soldier was pictured wearing the insignia of a Kurdish paramilitary group while fighting in Raqqa province in Syria.

The special forces soldier was pictured on Thursday in Fatisah, northern Raqqa, wearing the badge of the People's Protection Units (YPG) - which Turkey considers a terrorist group aligned with its decades-long enemy, the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.

A US military spokesman said the soldiers were "blending in" with local forces.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said on Friday the move was "impossible to accept".

“It is unacceptable that an ally country is using the YPG insignia. We reacted to it. We advise them to wear badges of Daesh or the Nusra Front when they go to other parts of Syria and badges of Boko Haram when they go to Africa.

"If they don't see these as the same as the YPG, then this is double standards, hypocrisy."

The American soldier was part of a force on frontline operations to take rural Raqqa province, in what is a probable build-up to an assault on the provincial capital, the de facto IS "capital" in Syria.

At least 250 US soldiers are believed to be supporting the operations of the YPG and its allies, who are fighting IS under the umbrella organisation, the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The US has stepped up its overt support for Kurdish-led forces in northern Iraq, including the YPG, including a public visit last weekend to training camps in northern Syria by the chief of the US military in the Middle East, General Joseph Votel. 

The YPG came to prominence in the fight for Kobane in 2014, when it held back thousands of IS fighters trying to take the city in northern Syria. US-led coalition planes conducted hundreds of air strikes on IS positions at the height of the battle.

The YPG is the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey says is a Syrian offshoot of the PKK. The US also designates the PKK as a terrorist group but says the YPG is a "reliable partner" in its fight against IS.

On Thursday, the US military acknowledged that special operations forces did what they could "to blend in with the community".

"Special operations forces, when they operate in certain areas, do what they can to blend in with the community to enhance their own protection, their own security," said Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook said.

"Special operations forces in the past have worked with partners, and in the past have conducted themselves in such a way that they might operate in an atmosphere in which they are supportive of that local force in their advice and assist role," Cook said. 

"And they might be, again, for visual purposes, blending in with the local community," he added.