US Defense chief affirms commitment to protecting Turkey

Posted May 19, 2017

Turkey today slammed as unacceptable a U.S. plan to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Ankara considers terrorists, but the militia applauded a "historic" move that would speed up the defeat of Islamic State (IS) extremists.

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, right, shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, ahead of the Somalia Conference, in London, Thursday, May 11, 2017.

When asked if the weapons would be taken back from the Syrian Kurds after the Raqqa operation had been completed, Dorrian said YPG fighters would "expend these resources fighting ISIS", using an acronym for Islamic State.

The capture of Tabqa by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is a key step in its advance on Raqqa, ISIL's de facto capital in Syria, and came as controversy intensified over a U.S. decision to arm the alliance's Syrian Kurdish component.

Washington has stepped up its support for the YPG in recent days, announcing that it would arm the Kurdish fighters in a break with its previous policy of arming only the SDF's Arab fighters.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the two were one and the same.

Both Washington and Brussels classify the PKK as a terror group but has never regarded the YPG as such.

The YPG said the United States s "historic" decision to begin providing it with weapons and other equipment would speed up its assault on IS positions. "If there is a decision otherwise, this will surely have consequences and will yield a negative result for the United States as well", Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said. Jets carrying out air strikes against ISIS have flown from Turkey's Incirlik airbase. Pentagon chief Jim Mattis met today with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in London, the most-high profile meeting between American and Turkish officials since the United States announced it would arm Kurdish fighters in Syria. The PKK is considered a terrorist group by the U.S., Turkey and the European Union. Iran views the prospect of permanent US bases in Syria with a high degree of unease, reflected most recently by comments by officials of the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group. We'll work out any of the concerns. We will work very closely with Turkey in support of their security on their southern border.

The US sees the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, as its most effective battlefield partner against ISIS in northern and eastern Syria.

"I hope that the mistake will be abandoned, " Erdogan told newsmen in Ankara.

Despite the angry language, Mr Erdogan's government has little chance of reversing Washington's decision, and any retaliatory move would come at a cost. He has demanded Washington reverse the decision, and said he would take up the issue with Trump. "I think Washington made such an evaluation when taking this decision".

Tensions escalated last month when Turkey conducted airstrikes on Kurdish bases in Syria and Iraq.

The YPG includes the Syrian Democratic Forces of Arab, Christian and Turkmen fighters.

"For now, things look tolerable for Iran, but it is not clear what the USA could do with their buildup in that region".