Syrian Kurds take largest dam, town from IS

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made clear Thursday that America is committed to protecting Turkey after angering its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally with a deal to arm anti-Islamic State fighters in Syria that Turkey considers terrorists.

Ankara has argued that Washington should switch support for the Raqqa assault from the YPG to Syrian rebels Turkey has trained and led against Islamic State for the past year - despite USA scepticism about their military capability.

The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish People's Protection Units [YPG], seen by the U.S. as an indispensable ally in the fight against IS but considered a "terrorist group" by Turkey. Sandbag fortifications left behind by Islamic State fighters lined the roadside in Tabqa city.Some 25,000 people had been displaced from Tabqa during fighting in recent weeks, staying in informal settlements south of the city, a United Nations refugee agency official in Syria, Roupen Alexandrian, said.

Mattis stressed the enduring nature of the U.S. -Turkey relationship in a meeting with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, the first face-to-face contact between officials from the two countries since the U.S. announcement about military support for the Syrian Kurds.

The Syrian Kurds have been encircling Raqqa, preparing for the launch of what the US military predicts will be a long and hard battle to retake the city.

She said the decision is likely to be met with "aggression" from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is to visit Washington next week. Its defense minister, Fikri Isik, said Wednesday that the decision plunges Washington and Ankara into a "crisis".

"We already know how insane the warfare [techniques] of IS are", Hacimansur said.

Shortly before Erdogan's comments, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu asserted that "every weapon seized by [the YPG] is a threat to Turkey", including those that the United States provides.

Erdogan is scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump in Washington on May 16, a meeting he said he hoped "will ensure the stability of the region and will lead us to reach a conclusion compatible with the realities of Syria".

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Earlier, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters the US failure to consider Turkey's sensitivities "will surely have consequences and will yield a negative result for the well".

The United States took this long to commit to arming SDF, despite its stated objective of destroying ISIS, because of concerns from the Turkish government.

So much is at stake: The U.S. can not afford to alienate a Turkish government that remains crucial in the ongoing battle against Islamist militancy.

"The (Syrian Democratic Force), partnered with enabling support from USA and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future", White said.

Raqqa is almost isolated, Davis said, noting the bridges that cross the Euphrates River have been disabled.

But Turkey worries that advances by the YPG in northern Syria could enflame the PKK insurgency on its soil and that the weapons supplied to this militia will fall into PKK hands, like it happened in the past.

That decision, announced Tuesday, has led to public statements of anger from Turkey, which says the US-backed Kurdish YPG fighters battling the Islamic State group in Syria are linked to its own domestic Kurdish separatist group the PKK, or Kurdish Workers Party.

Turkey, the US and other Western allies view the PKK as a terrorist group.

  • Adam Floyd