Backed Fighters Hunt for IS Holdouts in Syria's Tabqa

US Defense Secretary James Mattis has assured Turkey that Washington is committed to protecting its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, while Ankara is infuriated by a US plan to arm Kurdish fighters.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced that U.S. President Trump had approved the arming of the YPG "as necessary to ensure a clear victory" in a planned operation to retake the northern Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State (IS).

The arms include heavy machine guns to be used against IS truck bombs, mortars, small arms and ammunition, as well as armored vehicles and equipment to detect landmines, coalition spokesman Colonel John Dorrian said.

The Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) is seen by Washington as the best ally against Daesh (the so-called IS) in Syria and the prime attacking force in any assault on their stronghold of Raqa.

But Washington's reassurances failed to assuage Ankara, which regards the YPG as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly insurgency inside Turkey since 1984. 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. A senior American official said the US will step up joint intelligence-sharing with the Turks to help them better target terrorists. He and other officials have said the US will closely monitor the weapons' distribution and insure that they are used only against IS.

The recent shift has angered Ankara which views the change as a threat to its security.

Mr Erdogan said: "I hope that it [the US] will turn away from this wrong".

Mr Erdogan said the "fight against terrorism should not be led with another terror organisation" and that "we want to know that our allies will side with us and not with terror organisations".

"It's Europe's southern border, and we'll stay closely connected", Mattis told reporters during a visit to the Pabrade Training Area in Lithuania on Wednesday.

Mattis acknowledged Turkey's concerns that weapons could end up in the hands of the Kurdish militants in Turkey, known as the PKK. The PKK is considered a terrorist group by the U.S., Turkey and the European Union.

The US now provides air support for members of the SDF - a Kurdish-dominated and anti-Damascus alliance.

The offensive has been supported by bombing raids by a US -led coalition, as well as coalition military advisers on the ground.

A Defense Department official who briefed reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon said that any materiel given to the Syrian Kurds would be carefully monitored to "make sure that it's being used for exactly the objective that we intend".

The YPG said on Thursday that it would seek "neighbourly relations" with Turkey.

"There will be a lot of complications in bilateral ties", with implications for security cooperation and regional policies between Turkey and the United States, he said, adding, "Both countries will be in crisis-management mode".

  • Leroy Wright