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US Defense Chief Seeks To Reassure Turkish Leader About Arming Kurds

US Defense Chief Seeks To Reassure Turkish Leader About Arming Kurds

In this undated photo released Thursday, May 11, 2017, by Hawar News, the news agency for the semi-autonomous Kurdish areas in Syria, shows fighters from the Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces, patrolling on a street in Tabqa, northern Syria.

The capture of a key Syrian town and a nearby dam from Islamic State group militants undermines the extremist group's ability to defend its de facto capital, Raqqa and disrupts its ability to plan attacks in Western countries, the USA -led global coalition said Thursday.

Mr. Mattis met with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım on the sidelines of a counterterrorism summit in London, focused on efforts to defeat the Somali terror group Al-Shabaab.

The defense secretary, speaking to reporters aboard a US military airplane after the meeting in London, characterized the discussions as "honest, transparent and helpful". Unnerved by the Kurdish advances along the border, Turkey sent troops into Syria past year to help allied Syrian forces battle the Islamic State and block the Syrian Democratic Forces.

However, Turkey remains opposed to any decision to arm the Syrian Kurds, one of the most effective forces in the fight against ISIS. "Other Syrian groups that the USA supported before either disintegrated or turned their focus away to fighting each other and the Syrian regime". A senior American official said the US will step up joint intelligence-sharing with the Turks to help them better target terrorists.

Erdogan, who was speaking at a news conference in the capital Ankara, also said he would pursue the issue of the extradition of the US -based cleric Fethullah Gulen to "the end".

On Wednesday, Mr. Mattis definitively ruled out any scenario where the American weapons would end up in the hands of terrorists.

But this sparked ire from Turkey, which regards the YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which since 1984 has waged an insurgency inside Turkey, leaving tens of thousands dead.

"From our side, we want to keep good neighborly relations with Turkey", Redur Khalil said in a series of messages from Syria.




But Turkey worries that advances by the YPG in northern Syria could enflame the PKK insurgency on its soil and that the weapons supplied to this militia will fall into PKK hands, like it happened in the past.

Until Tuesday, official USA policy was to supply weapons only to the Arab components of the SDF-never to its Kurds.

"I have no doubt that Turkey and the United States will work this out with due considerations, significant attention paid to Turkey's security to NATO's security and the continuing campaign against ISIS", Mattis said, using an alternate acronym for IS. Otherwise, the outcome won't only affect Turkey.

Fighting for their own independent state spanning territory in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, the Kurds are a longtime adversary of the government in Ankara - a member of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and thus an ally to the US.

Mattis has played down the friction between the allies, saying that while "it's not always tidy", they will resolve any differences.

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) called on Erdogan to cancel his vist to Washington but this will apparently not be the case as Cavusoglu indicated that the visit will take place as planned.

The Trump administration has not specified the kinds of arms to be provided.

The arms include heavy machineguns to be used against IS truck bombs, mortars, small arms and ammunition, as well as armoured vehicles and equipment to detect landmines, said coalition spokesman Colonel John Dorrian. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the matter, said artillery or surface-to-air missiles would not be provided. He adds that the USA will issue limited ammunition to these weapons and thus will see that they are only used in Raqqa.

The Syrian Kurds have been encircling Raqqa, preparing for the launch of what the USA military predicts will be a long and hard battle to retake the city.


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