Pentagon chief, Turkish PM meet after decision to arm Kurds

A member of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces removes an Islamic State group flag in the town of Tabqa

A member of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces removes an Islamic State group flag in the town of Tabqa

The SDF, a multi-ethnic group which includes Kurdish fighters and Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC) fighters, had been battling Islamic State for weeks in Tabqa, about 40 kilometers west of Raqqa, with the help of coalition airstrikes and USA special forces advisers.

In the half-hour meeting, Mattis "reiterated US commitment to protecting our North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally" and "both leaders affirmed their support for peace and stability in both Iraq and Syria", Pentagon chief spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.

The U.S. sees the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, as its most effective battlefield partner against IS in northern and eastern Syria.

"We're going to carefully monitor what's being provided and what it's used for, and we are completely committed to make sure that it's being used for exactly the goal that we intend", said Air Force Col. John Dorrian.

The Trump administration has not specified the kinds of arms to be provided, but US officials have indicated that 120 mm mortars, machine guns, ammunition and light armored vehicles were possibilities.

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The officials weren't authorized to publicly discuss the matter and demanded anonymity. A congressional aide said officials informed relevant members of Congress of the decision on Monday evening. The arming of the YPG that has always been under consideration at the Pentagon but has been delayed due to strong opposition from Turkey.

In the statement Thursday, the worldwide coalition said with the capture of Tabqa, the SDF has further isolated Raqqa and "will continue to pursue the military defeat" of IS throughout Syria.

In a reflection of the sensitivities in Ankara, the Pentagon spokeswoman, Dana White, issued a follow-up statement hours after her initial comments. On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that every weapon obtained by the YPG constitutes a threat to Turkey. She said Mattis spoke with his Turkish counterpart, Fikri Isik, by telephone to reiterate a USA commitment to "protecting our North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally".

"From our side, we want to keep good neighborly relations with Turkey", Redur Khalil said in a series of messages from Syria.

Canikli said Turkey would take the diplomatic initiative to convince Washington "to do what friendship requires".

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"Raqqa and all liberated territory should return to the governance of local Syrian Arabs". The Turks have insisted that the Syrian Kurds be excluded from that operation, but US officials insisted there was no real alternative.

Dorrian said the arms would be "distributed soon" and would include small arms, ammunition, heavy machine guns and other weapons to eliminate Daesh's vehicle-borne bombs. Other officials said these safeguards are meant to reassure the Turks that the additional US weaponry and equipment will not be used by the Kurds in Turkey.

While the government expressed predictable anger, the deputy head of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Ozturk Yilmaz said it should go even further by postponing Erdogan's visit to the U.S.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to visit President Donald Trump in Washington next week. An Erdogan adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, met on Tuesday with Thomas Shannon, the State Department No. 2 official.

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