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Trump authorises arming Kurdish forces for Raqqa battle, risking Turkish ire

© Fatma Kizilboga, FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-05-10

Despite fierce opposition from NATO ally Turkey, US President Donald Trump has approved supplying arms to Kurdish YPG fighters to support an operation to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State group, US officials said on Tuesday.

Ankara views the Kurdish YPG militia fighting within a larger US-backed coalition as the Syrian extension of the Kurdish PKK militant group, which has fought an insurgency in Turkey's southeast since 1984.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said on Wednesday that the US arming of Kurdish fighters in Syria was 'unacceptable'.

"We cannot accept the presence of terrorist organisations that would threaten the future of the Turkish state ... We hope the US administration will put a stop to this wrong and turn back from it. Such a policy will not be beneficial, you can't be in the same sack as terrorist organisations," Canikli said in an interview with Turkish broadcaster A Haber.

The Pentagon sought to stress that it saw arming the Kurdish forces "as necessary to ensure a clear victory" in Raqqa, Islamic State group's de facto capital in Syria and a hub for the terror organisation's attack plots against the West.

"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 Trump's defense secretary, Jim Mattis.

"We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the US is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally."

The United States has long supplied arms to the Arab components of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces, which include YPG fighters. White said Washington would still prioritize supplying those Arab fighters within the SDF.

Mattis, speaking before the announcement, sounded upbeat about working through tensions with Ankara when speaking to reporters in Denmark after talks with coalition officials, including from Turkey.

"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 told a news conference.

Ankara had long argued that Washington should switch support for the planned assault on Raqqa from the Kurdish YPG militia to Syrian rebels Turkey has trained and led against Islamic State group for the past year.

But the US administration was skeptical that the Turkish-backed force was large enough or sufficiently trained.

White appeared to allude to that conclusion when she said: "The SDF, partnered with enabling support from US and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future."

One US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not disclose how soon arms would start being delivered to the Kurdish fighters.

Another US official said the equipment could include small arms, ammunition, machine guns, armored vehicles, and engineering equipment.

Saleh Muslim, co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, the YPG’s political affiliate, said the US decision was expected.

"The Raqqa campaign is running in parallel with the international coalition against terrorism. It’s natural that they would provide weapons” to the SDF and the armed groups fighting as part of it," Muslim said.
 

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2017-05-09

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