Syrian Kurds welcome U.S. arms, Turkey says 'unacceptable'

James Marshall
May 15, 2017

Speaking in Lithuania, where he was touring a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation training site on Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters that the U.S. has had very open discussions with Turkey over its concerns.

Melinda Negrón-Gonzales, an assistant professor, at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester is available to comment on the announcement by the Trump administration to arm Syrian Kurds in hopes that they will gain grounds to recapture the Islamic State, despite opposition from United States ally Turkey, which views the Kurds as terrorists.

A Pentagon spokesperson said, both leaders affirmed their support for peace and stability in Iraq and Syria. After Turkey held a deeply flawed and internationally-criticized referendum this spring to strengthen Erdogan's political power - a vote the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe described as unfree and unfair - Trump called Erdogan to congratulate him.

The U.S. decision to arm the Kurdish militia, considered an important American ally in Syria and the most capable ground force available for the Raqqa operation, was announced Tuesday.

Turkey's Prime Minister said yesterday that the U.S. can't use one terrorist group to fight another. Their half-hour conversation took place before an global conference on Somalia, and Mattis said he had no doubt the US and Turkey would "work this out with due consideration and significant attention paid to Turkey's security, to NATO's security and the continuing campaign against ISIS". A senior American official said the USA will step up joint intelligence-sharing with the Turks to help them better target terrorists.

Mattis acknowledged Turkey's concerns that weapons could end up in the hands of the Kurdish militants in Turkey, known as the PKK.

Earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also denounced the USA move, saying "every weapon that reaches the (Kurds') hands is a threat to Turkey". Like Turkey, the US considers that group a terrorist organization.

The fall of Tabqa also denies militants "a key coordination hub" that had been used by the group's foreign fighters since 2013 to plan attacks against the West, the coalition said in a statement. Otherwise, the outcome won't only affect Turkey.

"It's not always tidy, but we work out the issues", he added.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has demanded that the USA reverse its decision, is scheduled to visit Washington next Tuesday. Erdogan has said he would discuss the issue with U.S. President Donald Trump when they meet. USA officials have indicated that 120 mm mortars, machine guns, ammunition and light armored vehicles were possibilities.

The statement said that in the final days of the battle, around 70 IS fighters withdrew from the town, leaving heavy weapons behind them.

The dispute could ignite more fighting between the two key US allies in the battle against IS as Syrian Kurdish forces gear up for a major operation to drive the militants from their de facto capital, Raqqa. U.S. Colonel John Dorrian said Wednesday, however, the first shipment of weapons are ready for delivery and could reach the Kurds "very quickly". The weapons will not be reclaimed by the US after specific missions are completed, he added, speaking by teleconference from Baghdad, but the USA will "carefully monitor" where and how they are used.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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