January 21, 2018

Pentagon head makes clear US commitment to protecting Turkey

12 May 2017, 04:15 | Kara Nash

Turkey says the Syrian Kurdish group known as the YPG, which forms the backbone of the force, is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK, which is waging an insurgency in Turkey.

"We believe that from now on and after this historic decision, [the YPG] will play a stronger, more influential and more decisive role in combating terrorism at a fast pace", spokesman Redur Xelil said in a written statement to Reuters.

Situated on the Euphrates River about 55 kilometres upstream from Raqa, Tabqa is a key waypost in the operation to capture the jihadists' de facto Syrian capital.

The YPG forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has driven IS fighters from much of northern Syria with air strikes from a USA -led coalition.

The Pentagon has previously armed only Arab elements of the SDF. They pushed into the town almost two weeks ago, capturing most of its districts and encircling Islamic State in the dam.

Nasser Haj Mansour, an adviser to the SDF, said the town and Tabqa dam were now "completely liberated" after the SDF drove all IS militants out of the area.

The fall of Tabqa leaves no other major urban settlements on the road to Raqqa, about 40 kilometers, or 25 miles, away.

The SDF, which also includes Arab fighters, has captured large swathes of land in northern Syria from IS with the help of US -led airstrikes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he will grill President Donald Trump about the US decision to arm the Syrian Kurdish militia when he visits Washington next week.

Erdogan is expected to travel to Washington meet with the president next week-their first face-to-face meeting since Trump took office-and one in which divisions over USA support for the Syrian Kurdish militia are likely to be a point of contention. I hope they turn back from this mistake.

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Earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also denounced the US move, saying "every weapon that reaches the (Kurds') hands is a threat to Turkey". Talal Sillo, a commander with SDF, said no weapons have been delivered yet but noted the USA -led coalition said a delivery was expected from weapons already in Syria with the worldwide coalition. The intent is to restrict the distribution and use of the weaponry by permitting its use for specific battlefield missions and then requiring the Kurds to return it to USA control, the officials said.

At least seven civilians were reported killed on Wednesday night by airstrikes allegedly from the US-led coalition in al-Sour town in Deir Ezzor, eastern Syria, said human rights organizations.

The Trump administration has not specified the kinds of arms to be provided, but USA officials have indicated that 120mm mortars, machine guns, ammunition and light armored vehicles are possibilities.

The official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue and spoke on condition of anonymity, also said that the weapons have not started flowing to the Kurds.

Pentagon chief spokesperson Dana White said Mattis reiterated US commitment to protecting Turkey, which is deeply opposed to the arms agreement and has called for its reversal.

"We will work together".

Turkey is concerned the weapons provided by the us could one day fall into the wrong hands.

"I will personally express our worries in a detailed way when we talk with President Trump on May 16", he added, saying the issue would also be discussed at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels on May 25. On Monday, the Damascus government for the first time endorsed the group's battle against Islamic State, with Syrian Foreign.

Turkey yesterday urged the United States to reverse a decision to arm Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Syria, saying that every weapon supplied to the People's Protection Units (YPG) constituted "a threat to Turkey".

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