Kurdish-Led SDF Closing In On IS-Held Raqqa, Groups Report


The Trump administration has ramped up efforts to respond to the crisis in Syria, taking unprecedented action against Syrian President Bashar Assad's government over its use of chemical weapons against civilians.

There is no avoiding the fact that Turkey will play a major role in any Middle East settlement, and that no matter how effective the Kurdish fighters are, the United States must find common ground with President Erdogan on the region's future.

Erdogan issued a statement afterward, congratulating Trump for his presidential election victory. Ankara is also enraged by US plans to arm the Syrian Kurds, who they consider terrorists. He explained his position on the issue by the fact that such terrorist organization as the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) is extremely risky for Turkey.

For weeks, policymakers in Ankara had been waiting for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House.

The challenge is hardly new. More than 15 years of continuous USA -led war against Islamist militants in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa have taken a heavy toll on civilians.

Past administrations have sought a delicate balance. The United States, the European Union and Turkey agree the PKK is a terrorist organization. Too little cooperation with the Kurds risks squandering a battlefield ally with proven effectiveness against extremist threats and who has staunchly supported Washington. Thus, in order to limit the PKK's ability to move some of its fighters, military equipment and financial resources across the border to neighboring countries, Turkey has strategically extended its fight beyond its borders.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed group, says it will soon begin a final attack to capture Raqqa, ISIL's self-proclaimed capital in northern Syria, just days after seizing a key town to the west and an adjacent dam.

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"At the start of entering (Raqqa), of course, as (the USA -led coalition) promised us, there will be support in the form of specialized weapons, armoured vehicles or others", he said.

The U.S. decision to directly arm Kurdish units of the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting ISIS could harm U.S. relations with Ankara and cause further instability within Syria and Turkey, but it was a "necessary" step against ISIS, Kurdish politicians and fighters said. Despite Turkey's claims that "the war on terror" should include the fight against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the YPG, none of the global actors recognize the YPG as a terrorist organization. Turkey, which has NATO's second-biggest military, is concerned that growing Kurdish power in the region could inspire separatists at home, and that weapons provided by the USA could eventually be used against the Turkish military. As a nod to Turkey's concerns, the Pentagon has promised tight monitoring of all weapons and greater intelligence sharing to help the Turks better watch over their frontiers.

Turkey believes the Kurds in Syria are linked to the PKK.

In the long term, arming the Kurds could threaten Turkey's membership in North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and Ankara may deny the US use of its air base for operations in Syria and Iraq.

Ties became poisoned in the last months of the Barack Obama administration by venomous disputes over USA support for Kurdish fighters in Syria and the presence in the USA of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen whom Erdogan blames for last year's July 15 failed coup. "In order to do this, the US evidently prioritized Raqqa over Turkey's objections", Sam Heller, a Beirut-based analyst and fellow at the Century Foundation, told Syria Deeply.

Erdogan's visit comes amid rising tensions with Turkey.