The United States supports the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria despite Turkey’s concerns over the issue, U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner has said, repeating that Washington still views the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK) as a terrorist organization.
“We’ve long supported the YPG within the context of the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces that are operating in northern Syria,” Toner said, responding to questions during a press briefing on March 8.
“They’ve been very effective – we’ve talked about this many times – in removing ISIS from the battlefield, dislodging them, and ultimately destroying them,” he said, using another acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“I think they’ve liberated some 6,000 kilometers and more than 100 villages from ISIS around Raqqa since the operation began on November 4th . We’re also obviously mindful of Turkey’s concerns with respect to the YPG and we respectfully disagree with them linking the YPG with the PKK. And let’s be very clear that, with respect to the PKK, we still view them as a terrorist organization,” he said.
Turkey sees with the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the YPG, as terrorist groups linked to the PKK
and has called on the U.S. and other allies not to cooperate with the groups.
The announcement drew the ire of İbrahim Kalın, the spokesperson of the Turkish President. “Trying to fight against ISIL with terror groups such as the PYD-YPG, the extensions of the PKK, is shooting yourself in the foot,” he said during a press briefing on March 9.
The spokesperson said the U.S. was giving mixed signals over the issue.
On a possible operation on Raqqa, Kalın said there was no final decision yet over how and with whom such an operation on the ISIL stronghold would be held and that talks on the matter were ongoing.
A U.S. Marines artillery unit, meanwhile, was recently deployed to Syria to help local forces accelerate efforts to defeat ISIL in Raqqa, while the campaign to isolate the city is going “very, very well,” the U.S.-led coalition said March 9.
Coalition spokesman U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian said the additional U.S. forces would be working with local partners in Syria – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Arab Coalition – and would not have a front-line role.
The YPG makes up the majority of the SDF.
The additional deployment comprises a total of 400 U.S. forces – both Marines and Army Rangers. It adds to around 500 U.S. military personnel already in Syria, Dorrian said.
This week, the SDF cut the road between Raqqa and the jihadists’ stronghold of Deir ez-Zor province – the last main road out of the city.
The artillery will help “expedite the defeat of ISIL in Raqqa,” Dorian said. The Marines were armed with 155-millimetre artillery guns. Asked if they had been used yet, Dorrian said he did not believe so.
“We have had what I would describe as a pretty relentless air campaign to destroy enemy capabilities and to kill enemy fighters in that area already. That is something that we are going to continue and intensify with this new capability.”
Dorrian said a possible role for Turkey “remains a point of discussion at military leadership and diplomatic levels.”
“We have always said we are open to a role for Turkey in the liberation of Raqqa and will continue that discussion to whatever logical end there is.”
Toner also commented on a two-day meeting in Antalya
among the Turkish, U.S. and Russian
chiefs of staff.
The focus of the meeting, which ended March 8, was “to strengthen the de-conflict mechanisms that we have already in place to ensure the safety and well-being of our various forces who are operating on the ground in Syria,” he said.
“They did discuss Manbij, but only in the context of the larger fight against ISIS in the region,” Toner added regarding the northern Syrian city that Turkey insists the PYD must vacate.
“They also discussed other terrorist organizations that are active, including the PKK, al-Qaeda and al-Nusra Front as part of the regional security picture,” Toner said.