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Turkey Urges Mattis To Cut US Support for Syrian Kurds

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, left, speaks with Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik during a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, left, speaks with Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik during a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was urged by Turkey Wednesday to cut off U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG, which is closing on the ISIS stronghold of Raqaa.

On the sidelines of a NATO defense ministerial in Brussels, Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik met with Mattis to underline the long-standing position of his government that the YPG (People’s Protection Units) was a terrorist offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been labeled a terror group by the U.S.

“Anti-terror operations cannot succeed in this way” if the U.S. continues to back the YPG, Isik told Mattis, according to a Turkish defense ministry official cited by Turkey’s Andalou news agency. "A terrorist organization cannot be preferred to another one."

Mattis met with Isik as the YPG, widely considered the most effective rebel force in northeastern Syria, and a Syrian Arab militia fighting together as the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces continued their offensive to isolate Raqaa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The U.S. has been arming the Syrian Arab militia but maintains that no weapons have been supplied to the YPG fighters.

The U.S. and NATO-ally Turkey have been at odds on a range of issues since the failed military coup against the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last July.

Turkey has joined with Russia and Iran in attempting to negotiate a ceasefire in Syria’s civil war and Turkey has continued to demand the extradition from Pennsylvania of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been blamed by Erdogan with organizing the failed coup in July.

Despite Turkey’s complaints, the YPG elements in the Syrian Democratic Forces were having success in the campaign against Raqaa, a U.S. coalition commander said Wednesday.

In a video briefing to the Pentagon from Baghdad, British Army Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones, deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), said that the YPG and the Syrian Arab militia were working “hand in glove” in pushing back ISIS.

“We’re confident they’ll be able to take Raqaa” Jones said, despite Turkish warnings to the U.S. against allowing the YPG to enter the city on the northern bank of the Euphrates.

In the separate campaign to liberate the northeastern Iraqi city of Mosul, Jones said the Iraqi Security Forces backed by the U.S. had succeeded in confiscating valuable intelligence material from ISIS in the battle for the eastern sector of the city.

"I can tell you that in Mosul, a huge amount of material has been gathered," Jones said. He called ISIS “a very bureaucratic organization. They keep records. It would be speculation at this stage as to what that material might lead to, but I think in all likelihood it will point to terror plots."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.