Mattis Seeks to Allay Turkey on US Arming of Syrian Kurds
- Author: Leroy Wright May 22, 2017,
May 22, 2017, 20:48
The decision infuriated Turkey, a fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member, which regards the YPG as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that has waged a deadly insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.
Pentagon chief Jim Mattis on Thursday made clear that America is committed to protecting Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally upset the Trump administration has agreed to arm anti-Islamic State fighters in Syria that Turkey considers terrorists. US officials countered by saying that Kurdish forces have driven out militants from 2,300 square miles of northern Syria over the past two years, with the help of USA air strikes.
The battle for the recapture of Tabqah began almost two months ago when American helicopters inserted hundreds of Syrian fighters into the city, along with a handful of American special operations forces.
The US military command in the Middle East, Centcom, confirmed the liberation of Tabqa, situated on the Euphrates River about 55 kilometres upstream from Raqqa. The U.S-backed Kurdish-led operation to seize Tabqa began in late March. Concerns were raised earlier this year that the dam could be damaged in the fighting or degraded by lack of maintenance, or that the extremists might sabotage it to flood the surrounding areas.
The YPG said on Thursday that it would seek "neighbourly relations" with Turkey. Spokesman Redur Khalil called on Ankara to let go of its "unjustified" fears of the group.
"I hope very much that this mistake will be reversed immediately", the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.
"Yesterday the president authorized the Department of Defense to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIL in Raqqah, Syria".
The Trump administration says it will supply the Syrian Democratic Forces, of which the YPG is the main component, with heavier weapons ahead of a push on the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the IS group's de facto capital. Talal Sillo, a commander with SDF, said no weapons have been delivered yet but noted the US -led coalition said a delivery was expected from weapons already in Syria with the global coalition.
A senior American official said the US will step up joint intelligence-sharing with the Turks in an effort to help them better target terrorists. USA officials have indicated that 120 mm mortars, machine guns, ammunition and light armored vehicles were possibilities.
In the statement Thursday, the global coalition said with the capture of Tabqa, the SDF has further isolated Raqqa and "will continue to pursue the military defeat" of IS throughout Syria. The move allowed for the dismantling of land mines around the dam, averting a humanitarian disaster.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Thursday that Washington was committed to protecting its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, a spokeswoman said, as Turkey fumes over a decision to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said that its fighters have "completely liberated" Tabqa as well as an important nearby dam, which are both located about 25 miles west of Raqqa, the BBC News reported.