Published: Wed, May 10, 2017
Economy | By Melissa Porter

Mattis cites good talks with Turkey on fighting IS in Syria

Mattis cites good talks with Turkey on fighting IS in Syria

President Donald Trump yesterday "authorised the Department of Defence to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqa", Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.

Ankara sees the Kurdish fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces - known as the YPG - as closely linked to the PKK, an internationally designated terror group that has carried out attacks against Turkey.

The SDF, including its Kurdish elements, "are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future", she said in a statement announcing the plan.

"We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey", White said. "We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally", she added.

As many as 1,000 USA troops are working alongside the SDF inside Syria.

While there is no mention in the statement of arming the Kurds - it only calls to "equip" them - US defense officials told Fox News the plan includes supplying machine guns, small arms, ammunition, bulldozers and armored vehicles such as the M1117 Guardian.

At the same time, USA leaders on Tuesday sought to stress they planned to continue to involve Turkey in the fight against ISIS.

Senior U.S. officials including Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have met repeatedly with Turkish officials to try to work out an arrangement for the Raqqa assault that would be acceptable to Ankara.

Turkey has yet to respond to the news, but it couldn't have come as a surprise.

The Pentagon's announcement comes ahead of a scheduled meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Trump in Washington next week. "I don't believe the Trump administration will do the same", Erdogan said. Pentagon officials chose to wait until after the referendum, when Erdogan felt more secure in his power, to announce the expansion in support for the Kurds. The Turks have insisted that the Syrian Kurds be excluded from that operation, but US officials insisted there was no real alternative.

There has been wide support from senior USA military officials to provide direct arms to Syrian Kurdish forces, but sensitivities about Turkish opposition has delayed such a decision.

In a major policy shift, the Pentagon announced Tuesday it would directly arm Syrian Kurdish fighters for the first time to help expedite the capture of the so-called ISIS capital of Raqqa - against the wishes of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Turkey, which considers the group terrorists. "Pentagon officials denied these were "peacekeeping forces" - and struggled to define their mission".

The US alliance with Turkey has proven decisive in the battle against Islamic State in Syria, providing the coalition with access to Turkey's Incirlik air base to wage strikes against the militants, officials say. "Raqqa and all liberated territories should return to the governance of local Syrian Arabs".

Mattis said he had open and useful discussions with Turkish officials Tuesday, and said the two countries are working out differences over America's continuing support for Syria Kurds as the fight against Islamic State militants moves closer to group's headquarters in Raqqa.

Saleh Muslim, co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, the YPG's political affiliate, said the United States decision was expected.

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