Pentagon head makes clear US commitment to protecting Turkey

Katrina Barker
May 12, 2017

US -backed Syrian militias seized the town of Tabqa and Syria's largest dam from the Islamic State extremist group on May 10, clearing the way for an assault on Raqqa.

The defense secretary, speaking to reporters aboard a USA military airplane after the meeting in London, characterized the discussions as "honest, transparent and helpful".

"We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey", Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement as she traveled in Lithuania with defense secretary Jim Mattis.

But the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces fighters, which have driven the Islamic State from much of northern Syria over the past two years with the help of USA -led airstrikes, are among the most effective ground forces battling the extremists.

US support for the SDF - a multi-ethnic force that includes PKK/PYD elements - has recently brought Turkey's relations with Washington under strain.

The Turkish delegation repeatedly told senior US officials that such decision would undermine President Erdo─čan's first in-person meeting with President Trump, and both sides willingness to open a blank page following the Obama administration's disastrous relations with Ankara. The official, who wasn't authorized to discuss the issue publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the USA has yet to provide the weapons.

The YPG said the USA s "historic" decision to begin providing it with weapons and other equipment would speed up its assault on IS positions.

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

Last month, Trump gave orders to fire 59 Tomahawk missiles at an air base in central Syria in response to a devastating chemical weapons attack blamed on Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces. "We never have and never will".

Prior to Thursday's meeting, Yildirim had warned that "there is still an opportunity for the United States to take Turkey's sensitivities into consideration". Otherwise, the outcome won't only affect Turkey.

The dispute poisoned ties between Turkey and the United States under the administration of former president Barack Obama but Ankara had hoped for smoother ties under Trump.

Washington says the militia is essential to the operation on Raqqa, but Ankara considers it to be a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Mattis has repeatedly downplayed the friction between the two nations, saying that while "it's not always tidy", they will work out any differences.

Tuesday's decision to arm the Kurds is a public rebuff to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a week before he meets Trump in Washington.

Several Obama holdovers in key positions that administer the fight against Daesh have not been fired.

A Turkish air raid in late April killed 20 YPG fighters and media officials, prompting the U.S.to deploy armored vehicles along the border in a show of support for the group. A first consignment of weapons is already in place for delivery and could be dispatched to the YPG "very quickly", U.S. Colonel John Dorrian said May 10.

Other reports by AllAboutTopnews

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