U.S. defense chief affirms commitment to protecting Turkey

It was the first face-to-face meeting of top officials from the two nations since the Pentagon announced the USA would arm Syrian Kurds in the fight to oust Islamic State militants from the group's stronghold in Raqqa.

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), one of the main Kurdish militia groups in Syria, has proclaimed its aim to "build a free Syria" using the arms sent to them by the United States.

Ankara considers the Syrian group as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) waging insurgency in Southeast Turkey and blacklisted as terror group by Ankara, Washington and Europe.

"We would like to believe that our allies will prefer to side with us and not with terrorist organisations", Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara.

"The supply of arms to the YPG is unacceptable", Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli told A Haber television.

"That's not to say we all walk into the room with exactly the same appreciation of the problem or the path forward", he warned.

Mattis met in London with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on the sidelines of a security conference on Somalia a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the usa of siding with terrorists by giving small arms, ammunition, mortars and shoulder-fired weapons to the Syrian-Kurdish YPG, or People's Protection Units.

"I would characterize it as the usual sort of honest, transparent and helpful discussion between two long-term North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies on issues that directly impact the security of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation alliance, directly impact the security of Turkey and how we work out the way ahead in regards to the continued offensive against ISIS", Mattis said.

Mattis has repeatedly downplayed the friction between the two nations, saying that while "it's not always tidy", they will work out any differences.

In only a few months under President Donald Trump, the USA has nearly doubled the number of troops in northern Syria, taking a highly visible role that also risks a backlash from militants such as the Islamic State group and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, and even pro-Turkey Syrian fighters angered by the US move to arm the Kurds.

The news about the United States plan to arm Syrian Kurds comes, as the Trump administration mulls sending as many as 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan, a military official told NBC News, and as the White House makes moves it believe will help American forces "start winning" again in the region. He has demanded Washington reverse the decision, and said he would take up the issue with Trump.

Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, Intelligence Organization Chief Hakan Fidan, and Chief Foreign Policy Adviser Ibrahim Kalin made the case against arming the YPG.

A Turkish air raid in late April killed 20 YPG fighters and media officials, prompting the U.S.to deploy armored vehicles along the border in a show of support for the group. "They only have different names", he said.

Turkey has said it is keen to join the battle to recapture Raqa but on condition the offensive does not include Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Meanwhile, Trump received Russia's top diplomat Sergei Lavrov at the White House on Wednesday and called on Moscow to reign in its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

  • Leroy Wright