US pledges more support to Turkey’s Syria operation
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued assurances that the U.S.-led coalition will provide more support to Turkey’s Euphrates Shield Operation during his first meeting with his Turkish counterpart Fikri Işık late on Feb. 15 on the margins of a NATO summit in Brussels, according to Turkish officials.
Işık, meanwhile, repeated Ankara’s long-standing demand from the U.S. to cease its cooperation with Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) elements in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a Turkish Defense Ministry official stated.
“Anti-terror operations cannot succeed in this way. One terrorist organization cannot be preferred over another one,” Işık reportedly said, referring to the fight against the ISIL.
Turkey sees the PYD and its military wing, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG), as terrorist organizations due to their links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
At the NATO meeting in Brussels, Işık also met counterparts from Spain, Italy, the U.K. and France.
Meanwhile, a Syrian Kurdish leader said that Syrian Kurdish forces and their allies expect continued U.S. support for their war against ISIL in northern Syria and will fight Turkish forces if they advance towards Raqqa, ISIL’s de facto capital in Syria.
Ilham Ahmed, a co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spoke to Reuters from northeast Syria after returning from Washington where she pressed the new United States administration for political and military support.
The U.S. sees the SDF, which is an alliance that comprises mainly of YPG and some Arab forces, as their main partner on the ground to fight ISIL.
"In order to eliminate Daesh, there will definitely be military aid," she said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
Some U.S. officials also believed support could be increased, Ahmed said, describing her meetings as positive.
With air strikes and special ground forces from the U.S.-led coalition, the SDF alliance is in the middle of a multi-phased operation to encircle Raqqa, ISIL’s base of operations in Syria.
One of the Trump administration's major decisions will be whether to provide weapons to the YPG despite Turkish objections. The U.S. says weapons provided to the SDF are so far limited to its Arab elements.
Ahmed said her meetings indicated the SDF would receive continued, if not more, support from the United States.
In addition to meeting U.S. State Department officials and members of Congress, she met with foreign policy advisors to the Trump campaign and she plans to head back to Washington "as soon as possible.”
SDF ‘ready for clashes’ with Turkey in Raqqa
Turkey said this week that the final goal of its ongoing Euphrates Shield operation, which it launched mid-2016, into Syria was to cleanse a border region, including Raqqa, of both ISIL and YPG forces.
"This is unacceptable. Turkey will not be allowed" near stable areas where the SDF has driven out jihadists, said Ahmed.
"This will mean heightened tensions," she said. "If they attempt to, there will be clashes, of course."