The US on Tuesday announced it would supply arms and military equipment to Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, a move likely to anger key ally Turkey, which considers the Kurdish forces to be terrorists.
The weapons are to go to the fighters ahead of a upcoming offensive to recapture Raqqa, the last major bastion for the Islamic State group in Syria and the capital of their supposed “caliphate.”
US President Donald Trump on Monday “authorized the [US] Department of Defense to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement, using an acronym for the Islamic State group. “The SDF, partnered with enabling support from US and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”
The equipment is to include small arms, ammunition, machine guns, armored vehicles and engineering plant such as bulldozers, a defense official said.
The Kurdish elements of the SDF are from the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and they have been the main faction fighting the Islamic State group on the ground in Syria, but Turkey says the YPG is linked to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) separatists inside Turkey, who have waged an insurgency since 1984 that has killed more than 40,000 people.
Turkish war planes carried out strikes on YPG forces in Syria last month and also hit Kurdish positions in neighboring Iraq, which Ankara described as “terrorist havens.”
Tuesday’s announcement came ahead of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington next week to meet Trump.
Middle East Institute senior fellow Charles Lister said it was unclear how Washington could allay Turkey’s concerns.
He said that the US National Counter-Terrorism Center had previously labeled the YPG as the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, but scrapped that description once the US began working with them in late 2014.
“There really cannot be any ignoring the fact that the YPG is the official affiliate of a terrorist organization that Turkey has been fighting for over 30 years,” Lister said. “We have many reasons to be very frustrated with the Turks, but Ankara has a justified reason for being infuriated by our support for the YPG.”
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who arrived in Vilnius late on Tuesday as part of a European trip, earlier attended a summit in Copenhagen for senior leaders from the top 15 nations in the anti-Islamic State coalition, including Turkey.
Mattis gave a positive assessment of the role Turkey is to play.
“Our intent is to work with the Turks, alongside one another to take Raqqa down,” Mattis said.
White later said Mattis had spoken with Turkish Minister of National Defense Fikri Isik and reassured him of the US’ commitment to protecting its NATO ally.
“Equipment provided to the SDF will be limited, mission specific and metered out incrementally as objectives are reached,” White said, adding that the US foresees Raqqa eventually being governed by Arabs, not Kurds.
The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria discussed the campaign’s next steps as the militants’ “caliphate” around Raqqa is collapsing.
Though officials warn that military action would continue for some time, they are generally upbeat about the progress and quickening momentum of the fight.
“We examined the enemy situation and discussed the next steps to make sure we are all on the same sheet of music. We are going to further accelerate this fight,” Mattis said.
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting
A squad of gun-toting police officers patrolled Myanmar’s sacred site of Bagan under the cover of night, taking on plunderers snatching relics from temples forsaken by tourists due to COVID-19 restrictions. Each evening as dusk falls, about 100 officers fan out across the plain of Bagan covering 50km2, sweeping flashlights over the crumbling monuments to scour for intruders. “Our security forces are patrolling day and night,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Sein Win told reporters. “We have it under control for the moment, but it’s a challenge.” The central Burmese city is strewn with more than 3,500 ancient monuments — stupas, temples, murals and sculptures
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un warned against the “hasty” relaxation of anti-coronavirus measures, state media reported on Friday, indicating the country would keep its borders closed for the foreseeable future. North Korea in late January closed its borders as the virus spread in neighboring China, and imposed tough restrictions that put thousands of its people into isolation. Pyongyang insists it has not had a single case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus that has swept the world infecting more than 10.8 million people and killing more than 500,000. Analysts have said that North Korea is unlikely to have avoided the contagion