Syrian Kurds clear mines after taking town, dam from IS

The closed Dakota Access pipeline protest camp near Cannon Ball N.D. Thursday Feb. 23 2017

On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced that U.S. President Donald Trump had approved the arming of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) ahead of an attempt to drive Daesh from Raqqa, the last Syrian city held by the terror group.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Thursday that Washington was committed to protecting its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, a spokeswoman said, as Turkey fumes over a decision to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria.

Ankara says the Kurdish militia, which forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, is an extension of the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK, which has been waging a decades-old insurgency in Turkey and is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the USA and other Western countries. Washington says arming the Syrian Kurdish forces is necessary to capture Raqqa, which Islamic State has used a hub for planning attacks overseas.

A US-led anti-Daesh coalition spokesman told reporters in Washington that the weapons would be "pointed at ISIS [Daesh]".

The SDF, a multi-ethnic group which includes Kurdish fighters and Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC) fighters, had been battling Islamic State for weeks in Tabqa, about 40 kilometers west of Raqqa, with the help of coalition airstrikes and US special forces advisers.

SDF, which is an alliance of the Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters, said the feat was achieved after more than a month of intense fighting in the region.

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis sought to allay Turkish concerns, saying at a news conference in Lithuania the U.S. would work very closely with Turkey over security on its border with Syria.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the two were one and the same. "The Kurds have been the most effective fighters against ISIS in Syria, but unfortunately they are anathema to Turkey, which sees them as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a Kurdish separatist group that Turkey has battled since 1984".

The SDF spokesman added that the United States decision had a "historic meaning" and demonstrated trust to the Kurdish forces fighting Daesh.

BEIRUT (AP) - Syrian Kurdish-led forces were clearing mines at the country's largest dam and the nearby town of Tabqa on Thursday, a day after seizing them from Islamic State militants.

The presence of the group has caused tension between North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members the United States and Turkey and stoked concerns that differences over the aims and activities of the Kurdish fighters could undermine the battle against the Islamic State. Turkey's anger is no surprise.

Shortly after, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Washington to immediately overturn its decision to arm Kurdish fighters that Ankara regards as members of a terrorist group.

The arms include heavy machine guns to be used against IS truck bombs, mortars, small arms and ammunition, as well as armored vehicles and equipment to detect landmines, coalition spokesman Colonel John Dorrian said. "As they advance, SDF forces encounter ISIS snipers who are using apartment buildings, hospitals and mosques in the dense urban terrain to mask their positions".

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