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Erdogan slams US support for Kurdish anti-IS fighters in Syria

NATO allies Turkey and the US are at loggerheads after US commandos in Syria were pictured wearing YPG insignia
President Erdogan of Turkey slammed US support for group he compared to Islamic State (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday condemned the United States' support of Kurdish fighters in Syria after pictures revealed US commandos wearing the insignia of a group branded terrorist by Ankara.

"The support they give to ... the YPG [militia] ... I condemn it," said Erdogan. "Those who are our friends, who are with us in NATO ... cannot, must not, send their soldiers to Syria wearing YPG insignia."

Erdogan's comments came after an AFP photographer captured images of US troops in Syria wearing insignia of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

Ankara regards the YPG as a terror group, accusing it of carrying out attacks inside Turkey and being the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Kurdish group that has fought an insurgency against the Turkish state for over three decades.

Erdogan, speaking in the majority Kurdish city Diyarbakir, also accused the US of being dishonest because of its support for the militia and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

"The PKK, the PYD, the YPG, Daesh [Islamic State], there is no difference. They are all terrorists," Erdogan said. "I believe that politics should be exercised with honesty."

It had long been public knowledge that around 200 US commandos are in northern Syria helping local militia target the Islamic State group's de facto capital Raqqa and guiding in coalition air strikes.

The US, seeking to avoid a rift with ally Turkey, swiftly announced on Friday that special operations troops in northern Syria would henceforth stop wearing the badge of the YPG guerrillas.

However, the State Department played down the spat, insisting that Washington and Ankara remain close partners in the broader fight against the Islamic State, despite disagreements about the role of the YPG.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the United States of "hypocrisy" and "double standards" and said the American soldiers might just as well have worn the logo of al-Qaeda, the IS group or Boko Haram.

The United States has blacklisted the PKK as a "foreign terrorist organisation" but regards the PYG as a useful ally in the face of the Islamic State threat.

US military officials say they will continue to work with the YPG, which provides the bulk of the so-called "Syrian Democratic Forces" that are fighting the IS group.