US defense chief affirms commitment to protecting Turkey

Erdogan rips U.S. plan to arm Kurds Mattis downplays Turkey riftMore

Erdogan rips U.S. plan to arm Kurds Mattis downplays Turkey riftMore

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on the U.S.to reverse its decision, saying weapons in the hands of the Kurdish-led forces are a "threat" to his country. A top Syrian Kurdish official said Wednesday, May 10, 2017, that the USA decision to arm Kurdish fighters with heavier weapons will help legitimize the force, which is denounced as a terrorist organization by Turkey.

USA -backed Syrian Democratic Forces have defeated Islamic State fighters in the city of Tabqa and have seized Tabqa Dam, a key objective for the militias before a planned attack on the terror group's de-facto capital, Raqqa.

Turkey has warned the United States that its decision to arm Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State in Syria could end up hurting Washington, and accused its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally of siding with terrorists.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to protecting Turkey at a meeting Thursday, May 11.

But Washington's reassurances have failed to assuage Ankara. "It is conducting an active insurgency in Turkey, it has orchestrated the killing of innocent Turkish civilians and Turkish soldiers, and we support Turkey in its fight against PKK as a fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member, just like all the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries stand with Turkey against the PKK", Mattis said.

The Pentagon said only that Mr Mattis "reiterated USA commitment to our North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally".

US forces were able to help the SDF conduct an airborne landing on the bank of the Euphrates River in late March, allowing them to win control of a critical airbase nearby, Reuters said.

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The U.S.is convinced that the Kurdish fighters, known as the YPG, are the most effective local force in trying to oust IS militants from their stronghold in Raqqa, Syria.

A US official told Reuters that the United States was looking to boost intelligence cooperation with Turkey to support its fight against the PKK.

The offensive has been supported by bombing raids by a US-led coalition, as well as coalition military advisers on the ground. A top Syrian Kurdish official said Wednesday, May 10, 2017, that the US decision to arm Kurdish fighters with heavier weapons will help legitimize the force, which is denounced as a terrorist organization by Turkey.

The dispute poisoned ties between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies under the administration of former president Barack Obama but Ankara had hoped for smoother ties under Trump.

"I hope very much that this mistake will be reversed immediately", Erdogan said on Thursday.

Col Dorrian said the arms include heavy machine guns to be used against ISIL lorry bombs, mortars, small arms and ammunition, as well as armoured vehicles and equipment to detect landmines. Like Turkey, the US considers that group a terrorist organization. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the matter, said artillery or surface-to-air missiles would not be provided. "The SDF partnered with enabling support from United States and coalition forces are the only force on the ground to successfully seize Raqqah in the near future", White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed on Wednesday.

The Syrian Kurds have been encircling Raqqa, preparing for the launch of what the US military predicts will be a long and hard battle to retake the city.

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