US arming of Kurdish fighters ‘unacceptable’

Responding to Trump’s move to send arms supplies to YPG in battle for Raqqa, Turkish official hopes US will ‘turn back’.

Syrian Democratic Forces(SDF) fighters stand with their weapons north of Raqqa city
The Kurdish elements of the SDF are mostly from the YPG [Rodi Said/Reuters]

The US announcement to supply weapons to Kurdish units in Syria is “unacceptable”, Turkey’s deputy prime minister has said in a TV interview.

Speaking to broadcaster A Haber, Nurettin Canikli said on Wednesday that Turkey “cannot accept the presence of terrorist organisations that would threaten the future of the Turkish state”.

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“We hope the US administration will put a stop to this wrong and turn back from it,” he said.

Canikli said the US claim that cooperation with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) was the only way to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ( ISIL ) group in a ground offensive was not based on facts.

Earlier Dana White, the Pentagon’s chief spokeswoman, said in a written statement that President Donald Trump had authorised the arms shipments on Monday.

She said Trump’s approval gave the Pentagon the go-ahead to ” equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as necessary to ensure a clear victory” over ISIL in Raqqa, the group’s self-declared capital in Syria.

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkey-Syria border, said this announcement gets right to the heart of Turkey’s security concerns not only in Syria but also in Turkey.

“Turkey has long considered the YPG, the strongest Kurdish fighting force in Syria along that northern border, to be affiliated with a terrorist organisation,” he said.

“Last year, Turkey’s operation Euphrates Shield was not only targeting ISIL positions in that area, but was aimed at weakening Kurdish forces along that border”.

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The US has said it will closely monitor weapons transfers, and has promised that if arms are smuggled into other areas that could threaten Turkey, the supply will be cut off.

The SDF was founded in Syria’s mainly Kurdish northeastern region in October 2015 and is made up of at least 15 armed factions, mostly fighters from the YPG and the Free Syrian Army.

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

Last week it said it had taken 90 percent of Tabqa city in Raqqa province.

The YPG is the main faction battling ISIL, also known as ISIS, on the ground in Syria.

Turkey says YPG fighters are linked to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside Turkey who have waged an armed campaign since 1984 that has killed more than 40,000 people.

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Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday that the US wants to reassure the people and government of Turkey that it is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally.

For its part, the YPG praised on Wednesday the “historic” US decision to arm its fighters battling ISIL and said it expected to play a stronger and more influential role in what it called the fight against terrorism.

“We believe that from now on and after this historic decision, [the YPG] will play a stronger, more influential and more decisive role in combating terrorism at a fast pace,” Redur Xelil, YPG spokesperson, said in a written statement to the Reuters news agency on Wednesday.

The US says as of March 31, 2017, the total cost of operations related to ISIL since August 8, 2014, is $12.5bn. The average daily cost is $13m for 967 days of operations.

As of May 3, 2017, the US coalition has conducted a total of 21,065 strikes, including 12,561 in Iraq and 8,504 Syria.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies