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Kurdish-led forces advance on IS-held Raqqa, say activists

Kurdish-led forces advance on IS-held Raqqa, say activists

Al Jazeera's Charles Stratford reports from Gaziantep, near the Syria-Turkey border.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said after talks in London last week with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that Trump's meeting with Erdogan would be an opportunity to "correct the mistake" of support for the YPG. If Trump does not find solutions to the sensitive issues for Turkey, he can play the role of Stalin, who threw the once friendly USSR into the embrace of the United States after the Second World War by territorial claims to Turkey and his requirement to create military bases of the USSR in the straits. Turkey's government has also voiced frustration over what it sees as Washington's foot-dragging in response to its extradition request for a US -based Turkish cleric blamed for last July's failed coup. It was no such thing for the Kurds themselves, who have been receiving U.S. weapons for more than two years, and opposition from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shouldn't deter the plan from going forward.

The challenge is hardly new. That partnership is vital to USA interests in the volatile Middle East.

Past administrations have sought a delicate balance. Trump wants to see a quick and decisive military defeat of IS, a goal that makes the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) a precious USA partner on the ground. Too little cooperation with the Kurds risks squandering a battlefield ally with proven effectiveness against extremist threats and who has staunchly supported Washington. But it is not clear if Trump understands that.

After the US approved providing heavy weaponry to the terrorist PKK's Syrian offshoots, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing the People's Protection Units (YPG), ahead of President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan's visit to Washington, Turkey's Ministry of Interior published a comprehensive report Monday revealing the close ties between the PKK and the PYD/YPG with official findings showing the group is committing major human rights violations against civilians as well as ethnic cleansing.

Moreover, and uncharacteristic for Donald Trump's White House, the decision on the Kurds seems to have been taken carefully.

The advances were also stirring local tensions with Syrian Arabs concerned that Kurdish forces were seeking to dominate non-Kurdish regions. That voices in the Turkish government would even hint that Turkish forces might risk killing USA personnel in order to attack YPG forces shows the depth of Turkish hostility to the YPG and PKK who they see posing an existential threat to Turkey. The United States, the European Union and Turkey all agree the YPG is a terrorist organization. Although, in deference to Turkey, U.S. commanders have refrained until now from directly arming the YPG, they say the urgency and magnitude of the Raqqa offensive gives them no choice. As a nod to Turkey's concerns, the Pentagon has promised tight monitoring of all weapons and greater intelligence sharing to help the Turks better watch over their frontiers. Trump's increasing domestic problems in the wake of his firing of FBI Director James Comey make it more likely that he will want to make a splash in foreign policy of some kind to generate some positive attention. As a result, experts see Erdogan using the meeting to confront Trump on a host of other Turkish grievances. Gulen, who has denied involvement in the coup, remains in the United States. Gulen is a cleric and one-time ally of Erdogan who now stands accused of being behind much of the domestic opposition to the Turkish president's rule, including the attempted coup previous year.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the USA responded by openly demonstrating its flag within the framework of their mission in the northern part of Syria in order to prevent Turkey from hitting U.S. allies. The U.S. also has pressed unsuccessfully for the release of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, and other detained U.S. citizens.