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Pentagon chief, Turkish PM meet after US decision to arm Kurds

20 May 2017, 03:08 | Darnell Patrick

"The Syrian Democratic Forces seized control of Tabqa and the adjacent dam", said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

With airstrikes and special forces from the USA -led coalition, the SDF are advancing on Raqqa, Islamic State's base of operations in Syria, to ultimately take the city.

US -backed Syrian militias said they fully captured the town of Tabqa and Syria's largest dam from Islamic State on Wednesday, a major objective as they prepare an assault on Raqqa city.

The Associated Press reported that Tabqa was the last major urban settlement on the road to Raqqa.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought Thursday to ease Turkish concerns over the White House decision to arm a Syrian Kurdish group viewed as terrorists by Ankara.

"We want to believe that our allies would prefer be side by side with ourselves rather than with the terror groups", Erdogan said.

He spoke during a joint news conference with the visiting president of Sierra Leone.

"We hope the United States administration will put a stop to this wrong and turn back from it", he said. US officials have indicated that 120 mm mortars, machine guns, ammunition and light armored vehicles were possibilities.

Fikri Isik also told private NTV television on Wednesday that Turkey has the power to defend its national interests in Syria, though he did not elaborate.

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. Military officials have argued for months that the YPG is the only force on the ground capable of forcing ISIS out of Raqqa in the near future. Its leaders have railed against any strategy that, in their view, would involve the US using one terrorist group to fight another.

One faction, Ghadab al-Fura launched a campaign in October 2016 to retake Raqqa.

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A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces poses with a machine gun in Tabqa, April 30 2017. "It is conducting an active insurgency in Turkey, it has orchestrated the killing of innocent Turkish civilians and Turkish soldiers, and we support Turkey in its fight against PKK as a fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member, just like all the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries stand with Turkey against the PKK", Mattis said. We'll work out any of the concerns. Mattis, who was in Vilnius on Wednesday as part of a European tour, gave a positive assessment of the role Turkey will play in the lead up to the Raqa fight.

The dispute poisoned ties between Turkey and the United States under the administration of former president Barack Obama but Ankara had hoped for smoother ties under Trump.

Otherwise, he warned, "the outcome won't only affect Turkey, a negative outcome will also emerge for the United States".

Turkey believes the USA -backed Syrian Kurds, known as the YPG, are terrorists.

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) removes an Islamic State group flag in the town of Tabqa, west of Raqqa.

A spokesman for the coalition, Col.

US President Donald Trump has approved a plan to arm the Syrian Kurdish militia-an important US ally in Syria in the fight against IS.

Meanwhile, during an interview with NTV, Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik said that USA decision to supply weapons to Syrian Kurdish militants will "neither benefit the US nor the region".

Erdogan is expected to travel to Washington D.C.to meet with the president next week-their first face-to-face meeting since Trump took office-and one in which divisions over USA support for the Syrian Kurdish militia are likely to be a point of contention.

A US-backed alliance today captured Syria's Tabqa and its nearby dam from the Islamic State group, a day after Washington said it would arm the force's Kurdish fighters.

But this sparked ire from Turkey, which regards the YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which since 1984 has waged an insurgency inside Turkey, leaving tens of thousands dead.



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