The government of Turkey in response to the news that the Trump Administration is going to arm the Syrian Kurds with heavy weapons has threatened to take military action against them.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke to the media on Wednesday and said that the US and Turkey were having open discussions but was confident that the two sides would work things out.
Mattis also vowed that the US would help Turkey defend its southern border stating that it is “Europe’s southern border” as well.
“Turkey’s message to the Trump administration was that Turkey reserves the right to take military action,” said a senior Turkish official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Turkey has already conducted limited strikes against the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria in recent weeks, but it could increase the tempo of those strikes, Turkish officials said. American officials have complained bitterly to Turkey, a NATO ally, about the airstrikes, which have targeted the principal U.S. partner in Syria in the fight against the Islamic State.
Any further military action could also potentially complicate the offensive on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s symbolic capital and its last major stronghold after the Iraqi city of Mosul, which is besieged by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces. U.S. officials are concerned that Turkey could send forces into northern Syria and draw the Kurdish fighters away from the Raqqa battle.
Turkey views the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, as an existential threat. The YPG, which dominates a U.S.-supported force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
In a news conference Wednesday, Erdogan said that Turkey’s “patience has ended” and that he hoped the United States would reverse its decision.
“We want to know that our allies will stand not with a terrorist organization but with us,” he said.
This puts the planned assault on the ISIS-held city of Raqqa in jeopardy. The US feels that the YPG group of Kurds is the best available unit to launch the attack.
In an attempt to allay Turkish fears, a Defense Department spokesman on Wednesday at the Pentagon said that any material given to the Syrian Kurds would be carefully monitored to “make sure that it’s being used for exactly the purpose that we intend.”
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