Kurdish-Led SDF Closing In On IS-Held Raqqa, Groups Report

The push to retake Raqqa appears to have gathered strength, after U.S. President Donald Trump announced a decision last week to arm Kurdish-led forces with heavy weapons.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday the United States' decision to arm the Syrian Kurdish YPG is contrary to its relationship with Turkey, adding he believed issues with Washington would be largely solved in an upcoming visit. He said the battle for Raqqa would begin once the group receives the weapons from the USA military, adding that he expects the fighters to storm the city in the coming weeks.

The United States and Turkey were on the same page when made a decision to wage a war against ISIS in Syria; however, Turkey's new involvement inside Syria and disagreement with the Kurdish militia may bring about a change in the Middle East dilemma. His willingness to partner with authoritarian rulers and overlook their shortcomings on democracy and human rights have alarmed USA lawmakers of both parties.

However, the strategic partnership between them has been strained by conflicting priorities in the Syrian war.

The U.S. sees the Syrian Kurds as the only force capable of quickly capturing Islamic State's self-declared capital of Raqqa in Syria. The YPG is the main component of the SDF.

The Turkish Government considers the YPG to be an integral part of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which both the US and Turkey designate a terrorist organization.

The spat over Syria represents the deepest crisis in bilateral ties since Ankara denied Washington permission to deploy USA troops to attack Iraq from Turkish soil in 2003.

His meeting with Trump will be their first since the president's January inauguration. Note that Tillerson visited Turkey in late March and McMasters (and reportedly Trump) received Turkey's Chief of the General Staff, Intel Chief, and senior Presidential advisor/spokesperson last week - certainly the increased support for the YPG was previewed with them. The shipments were pre-positioned and could be delivered to the Kurdish militia "very quickly", according to U.S. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad.

"It doesn't change the fact that when we see ISIS fighters on the battlefield and have a clean shot at them, we will continue to take it".

Turkey insists that the YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK, which has waged war against the Turkish state since 1984.

"If we engage the forces in the Middle East, that means there's less American boots on the ground there and that's exactly what we want", Ernst says.

Erdogan sent several senior officials, including his military and intelligence chiefs, to Washington for preparatory talks but the Turkish delegation failed to prevent the USA administration's decision to directly arm the YPG.

His prime minister, Binali Yildirim, said that Washington's stance "will surely have consequences and will yield a negative result for the U.S.as well".

After Erdogan emerged victorious from an attempted coup in July, he nearly immediately cast blame on one man: the elderly self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, a onetime close ally who lives in Pennsylvania.

"Naturally (Turkey) would have to consider the aftermath of closing the Incirlik base to (U.S.) use", said Soli Ozel, a lecturer at Turkey's Kadir Has university. Photos and video footage came out of a USA commander visiting the Syrian town of Derik, close to the Turkish border, and walking shoulder-to-shoulder with the PKK's Şahin Cilo (on Turkey's terrorist watch list) (The Guardian, May 1). Arslan is portrayed by pro-Erdogan media in Turkey as a high-ranking Gulen follower, something he denies. The U.S. also has pressed unsuccessfully for the release of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, and other detained U.S. citizens.

The article originally appeared at The Arab Weekly.

  • Leroy Wright