Mattis in Turkey for talks on Syria, Kurds

Author : Mircea Birca | Wednesday, August 23, 2017
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Pentagon chief Jim Mattis held talks with Turkish leaders in Ankara on Wednesday focusing on Washington’s arming of a Syrian Kurdish militia viewed as a terror group by Turkey, a move which has strained ties between the NATO allies.

Mattis flew in for the one-day visit after stopping in Iraq to review progress in the campaign against the Daesh group, urging coalition partners to prevent other political issues from disrupting the growing momentum against the extremists.

In Ankara, he held talks with Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli and was later to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey, an important NATO ally of the United States and part of the coalition fighting the Daesh militants, is incensed that Washington has been arming the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the assault on the extremists’ stronghold of Raqa, in northern Syria.

Turkey regards the YPG as the Syrian affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but Washington has been impressed with its ability to combat Daesh on the ground.

In May, the Pentagon said it had begun transferring small arms and vehicles to the YPG to support its role as a leading player in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Syrian Arab alliance fighting Daesh.

The weapons include AK-47s and small-calibre machine guns.

Erdogan has repeatedly vowed that Turkey will thwart any attempt by the YPG to carve out a Kurdish state in northern Syria, leaving open the possibility of a cross-border operation to prise the town of Afrin from Kurdish control.

“Turkey will not allow a terror corridor reaching the Mediterranean in northern Syria,” Erdogan told reporters on his plane back from a visit to Jordan.

“Whatever the price, we will conduct the necessary intervention,” he said, quoted by the Hurriyet newspaper on Wednesday.

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