Thursday, 23 November, 2017

Pentagon says it will arm Syrian Kurds, despite Turkey's objections

Australia continues commitment to counter Daesh Pentagon says it will arm Syrian Kurds, despite Turkey's objections
Madeline Patrick | 10 May, 2017, 03:52

"Yesterday, the President authorized the Department of Defense to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa, Syria", chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said in a statement referring to ISIS' self-declared capital. The PYD is closely affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is a left-wing group considered a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the U.S. The PYD and PKK have the common desire to create an independent Kurdish state.

"We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey", said White in the statement.

But a group of Kurdish fighters, commonly referred to as the People's Protection Units or YPG, is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, another USA ally fighting ISIS.

The U.S. support for the SDF has been a major strain on relations between Washington and Ankara.

Later, Mr. Cevik attempted to walk back his comments on social media regarding USA forces working with Kurdish militias.

Meanwhile at the White House, Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Tuesday that he was unsure whether President Trump had informed Mr. Erdogan of his decision.

Previously however, Turkey has shown a prickly reaction to the US backing Kurds in Syria. The official has no confirmed or disclosed just how soon arms would start being delievered to Kurdish fighters.

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There was no immediate reaction from Turkey, whose president, Tayyip Erdogan, is expected to meet Trump in Washington next week.

The US sees the 50,000-strong Syrian Democratic Forces as the most effective force fighting ISIS in Syria and has armed the non-Kurdish Arab elements of that group for some time.

To soften the blow, senior administration and military officials have been in near constant contact with their Turkish counterparts to assure them the Kurds will not be part of the force that enters Raqqa and will not dominate the establishment of a new local government.

Noting that the U.S. continues to prioritise its support for Arab elements of the SDF, White said Raqqa and all the liberated territory should return to the governance of local Syrian Arabs. However, over the last several weeks, Ankara has conducted a unilateral air campaign against Kurdish targets in Syria.

Turkey allows the USA -led coalition fighting ISIS to use one of its air bases for warplanes involved in the fight, but one risk for the Americans is that Erdogan could withdraw that permission over his objections about the Kurds. The Turkish military said it killed at least 90 fighters and wounded scores.

"Our intent is to work with the Turks, alongside one another, to take Raqqa down, and we're going to sort it out and we'll figure out how we're going to do it", Mattis said.

The instability has concerned Washington, which fears it will slow the effort to retake Raqqa.

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