Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Wednesday told visiting Pentagon chief Jim Mattis of Turkey’s uneasiness over Washington arming a Syrian Kurdish militia viewed as a terror group by Ankara, a policy that has strained ties between the NATO allies. Mattis arrived for the one-day visit after stopping in Iraq to review progress in the campaign against Daesh (ISIS), urging coalition partners to prevent other political issues from disrupting the growing momentum against the militants.
He met with Erdogan at the presidential palace after talks with Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli in Ankara. Turkish spy chief Hakan Fidan also took part in the meeting with Erdogan.
Turkey, an important NATO ally of the United States and part of the coalition fighting Daesh militants, is incensed that Washington has been arming the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the assault on the Daesh stronghold of Raqqa, in northern Syria.
Turkey regards the YPG as the Syrian affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but Washington has been impressed with its ability to combat Daesh on the ground.
In May, the Pentagon said it had begun transferring small arms and vehicles to the YPG to support its role as a leading player in the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-Syrian Arab alliance fighting Daesh.
The weapons include AK-47 assault rifles and small-caliber machine guns.
During the meeting, Erdogan told Mattis that Turkey was “uneasy over the U.S. support” for the YPG, presidential sources said.
Erdogan has repeatedly vowed that Turkey will thwart any attempt by the YPG to carve out a Kurdish state in northern Syria, leaving open the possibility of a cross-border operation to prize the town of Afrin from Kurdish control.
“Turkey will not allow a terror corridor reaching the Mediterranean in northern Syria,” Erdogan told reporters on his plane back from a visit to Jordan. “Whatever the price, we will conduct the necessary intervention,” he said, quoted by the Hurriyet newspaper Wednesday.