President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused NATO allies of supporting “terrorists” with thousands of truckloads of weapons, while ignoring Turkey’s request to purchase their arms.

“What kind of NATO alliance is this?” Erdogan said on Monday during an election campaign rally in southwestern Turkey’s Burdur region.

“You give terrorists around 23,000 truckloads of weapons and tools through Iraq, but when we asked you won’t even sell them to us,” he added. 

“We have a 911-kilometre border [with Syria]. We’re under threat at any moment.”

Erdogan did not specify which nations were allegedly supplying arms through Iraq.

US-allied ‘terrorists’

Turkey also expects Syria’s Manbij region to be rid of “terrorists” and left to locals as soon as possible, said the Turkish leader.

Manbij has been held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia spearheaded by the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG), since 2016.

This has angered neighbouring Turkey, which views the influence wielded by the YPG in northern Syria as a national security threat.

Ankara considers the YPG a “terrorist group” with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. PKK has waged a decades-long armed conflict in the country, killing an estimated 40,000 people.

Ankara has threatened to target Manbij in a military operation to wipe out the YPG. 

But the Kurdish militia has been Washington’s main ally in the ground war against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS) in Syria for several years. The United States has warned Turkey against attackingthe armed group.

US troops withdrawal from Syria ‘will be gradual’ process

The YPG controls a swathe of territory in northeast Syria from the eastern banks of the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border. 

Referring to northern Syria, Erdogan said, “in this region, only those who do not stand against Turkey but side with it will win”.

US withdrawal 

Tensions have risen in Syria since US President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement of the withdrawal of about 2,000 American troops from the country who operate alongside Kurdish forces in Syria’s northeast.

The SDF’s commander-in-chief called on Monday for about 1,000 to 1,500 international forces to remain in northern Syria to help fight ISIL and expressed hope the United States, in particular, would halt plans for a total pullout.

“We would like to have air cover, air support, and a force on the ground to coordinate with us,” Mazloum Kobani told a small group of reporters after talks with senior US generals in Syria.

Days after Trump’s December pullout decision, Erdogan pledged Turkey will take over the fight against remnants of ISIL in Syria, and announced the operation against the YPG was on hold for now.

Since then, the discussion has included the establishment of a “safe zone” in northern Syria, but Turkey has insisted the area must be free of the YPG and under its control. 

The Kurdish fighters say any such zone must have “international guarantees … that would prevent foreign intervention”. 

Turkey has for years criticised the United States for supplying weapons and training to the YPG – one of the most potent ground forces in the fight to defeat ISIL.

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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