Middle East

Mattis meets with Turkey PM amid row over arming Syrian Kurds

Two days after the Pentagon said it would supply arms to Syrian Kurds, a group that NATO-ally Turkey considers terrorists, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım on the sidelines of a conference in London, a defense department spokesperson said in a statement.

The Thursday meeting comes hours after U.S.-backed Syrian fighters captured a strategic ISIS-held city on the outskirts of Raqqa.

Both American leaders “affirmed their support for peace and stability” in Iraq and Syria, said Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White. Mattis also “reiterated U.S. commitment to protecting” NATO-ally Turkey.

TENSIONS RISE AFTER TURKISH ATTACK ON SYRIAN KURDS

It was the first face-to-face meeting between top U.S. and Turkish officials since the Pentagon announcement.

Just a few weeks ago, Turkish jets carried out airstrikes against the U.S.-backed Kurds in Iraq and Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to visit the White House next week and has said he will raise the issue of U.S. support to the Syrian Kurds.

On Thursday, the U.S. Central Command announced U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish and Arab force, recaptured the strategic Tabqa Dam and its neighboring city, which is located roughly 30 miles west of the ISISI stronghold of Raqqa.

The U.S. military supported the operation with Apache helicopter gunships, airstrikes from jet aircraft and artillery fire from a nearby U.S. Marine Corps battery. 

TURKEY THREATENS FURTHER STRIKES ON US-ALLIED SYRIAN KURDS

About 70 ISIS fighters surrendered to the U.S.-backed force, according to a statement from the U.S. Central Command.

The battle for the city of Tabqah and nearby dam began nearly two months ago, when American helicopters inserted hundreds of Syrian fighters along with a handful of American special operations forces.

The hard-fought battle “denies ISIS a key coordination hub that its foreign terrorist fighters used since 2013 to plan local operations and external attacks against the West,” the statement said.

The decision to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters came after Raqqa was “successfully isolated,” one senior U.S. defense official told Fox News.  The next phase of the battle will be an assault on Raqqa itself in a battle that is expected to last for months.

There are roughly 3,000 to 4,000 ISIS fighters remaining in their so-called capital, according to Col. John Dorrian, a Baghdad-based U.S. military spokesman.

Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews