Mattis cites good talks with Turkey on fighting IS in Syria

10 May, 2017, 03:49 | Author: Kristopher Anderson
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"I don't know if he's addressed this to the president yet", Mr. Spicer said, referring to Mr. Erdogan, noting the administration remains "keenly aware of the security concerns" expressed by Turkey over USA cooperation with Kurdish forces.

Two officials told NBC News that President Donald Trump has signed the order for the United States to provide the Syrian Kurds with arms and equipment.

Turkey views the Kurdish rebels as terrorists and wants to stop them taking more territory in Syria. Both Washington and Ankara consider the PKK a terrorist group, but the USA military has long said the YPG represent the best fighters on the ground in Syria against ISIS.

"Our intent is to work with the Turks alongside one another to take Raqqa down, " Mattis said during a news conference in Denmark.

Turkey has continued to lobby the Trump administration to change course in the days leading up to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's United States visit, dispatching top Turkish officials, including General Hulusi Akar, the military chief of staff, and Hakan Fidan, the intelligence chief, to Washington.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called his Turkish counterpart, Fikri Işık, to discuss the issue while visiting Denmark for an anti-ISIS coalition meeting with allies.

However, consideration of Turkey's opposition to arm the Kurdish forces delayed a decision by the Obama administration.

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The jihadists' capital of their supposed "caliphate" is being surrounded by a Kurdish and Syrian Arab alliance and officials are expecting a brutal fight to retake the city.

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.

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. They said the USA would not provide artillery or surface-to-air missiles.

In her statement, White said the US prioritizes its support for the Arab elements of the SDF.

The United States has played down Turkish accusations of links between the YPG and PKK. "We'll figure out how we're going to do it".

Previously however, Turkey has shown a prickly reaction to the US backing Kurds in Syria. Last month, Turkish warplanes launched assaults on Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria, killing more than a dozen people, and prompting a public condemnation from Washington. The Kurdish group in Syria said 20 of its fighters and media activists were killed in the strike, which was followed by cross-border clashes.

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