Activists say Kurdish-led forces advance on IS-held Raqqa

17 May, 2017, 02:29 | Author: Essie Rivera
  • Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends the Roundtable Summit Phase One Sessions of Belt and Road Forum at the International Conference Center in Yanqi Lake

Keeping in mind that Syrian Kurds make up the majority of the SDF, which the US was already training and arming, how will this new decision affect the Kurds' military capabilities on the ground and the SDF's involvement in the anti-ISIS fight? Analysts doubt that Trump and Erdogan can come to an agreement during their talks at the White House.

The decision gives the Pentagon clearance to arm the entire Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, a US -backed coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters dominated by the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), making gains against ISIS in northern Syria.

Turkey rightly considers the group an offshoot of the revolutionary, Communist-inspired Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has carried out a 30-year-long civil war in Turkey and has always been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, NATO and the United States.

Erdogan welcomed Trump's election victory last November and said he hoped it would lead to "beneficial steps" in the Middle East.

While Turkey and the US saw their close ties as critical to halting Soviet expansion during the Cold War, their military relations have been more strained since 2003 - when Turkey refused to let the USA use it as a base from which to invade Iraq.

Moreover, Trump may discourse about his thriving business interests in Istanbul; he said in an interview with Steve Bannon, now a White House Chief Strategist, "I have a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul" as it is an enormously successful job.

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Though the United States has acknowledged receiving a formal extradition request from Turkey's government, U.S. officials say they need more hard evidence linking Gulen to the elaborate plans. He could, conceivably, retract permission for the U.S. to use Turkish territory to launch attacks on IS forces.

The announcement of the US President Donald Trump's decision a week before the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Washington is not a stab in the back of its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation partner, a member of the coalition against ISIS in Syria and Iraq - Turkey, but rather a spit in the face of its charismatic leader.

The US-backed forces put pressure on ISIS from each flank, cleared the final neighborhoods of the city, and isolated Tabqah Dam.

At the same time, his justice minister brought new evidence to support Turkey's long-standing extradition request for Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric Erdogan holds responsible for a failed coup attempt last July. This presents a complication for the United States, but not necessarily a bad one. "It's the same story. We keep on explaining that it's not the only alternative, and they keep saying it's the only alternative". The letter borrows heavily from talking points the Turkish Presidency used previously. "Could you accept that kind of decision? Side by side. Now, instead of siding with your ally - which has 800,000 soldiers - you are opting to side with a terrorist organization". Arming the Kurds while keeping Turkey on board is a gamble.

The decision is linked to the effort to retake the city of Raqqa.

"They keep saying that time is of the essence for the liberation of Raqqa, that all of the planning is done", the Turkish official said. Turkey has since offered to conduct the Raqqa operation with the FSA. "If they say no, how are you going to force them out?" the Turkish official said. Although the United States did not respond beyond disapproving rhetoric, it is fair to wonder whether Turkey's attack affected the Pentagon's thinking about arming the YPG. It could also impose limits on the use of its Incirlik air base as a launchpad for the air campaign against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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