U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has reiterated its pledge to protect Turkey, as the country opposes a recent U.S. decision to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters in an attempt to oust Islamic State militants from their stronghold in Raqqa.
Mattis reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to its NATO ally after meeting Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, the highest level talks between the two countries since Washington announced on Tuesday plans to provide arms to the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds, also known as the YPG.
Turkey is strongly opposed to the arms deal and has called for its reversal. Turkey believes the YPG is a terrorist group, an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) -- which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and Europe.
On Wednesday, Yildirim publicly criticized the U.S. decision, maintaining the U.S. cannot use one terrorist group to fight another.
Yildirim and Mattis met Thursday before the start of an international conference in London on security and humanitarian issues in Somalia.
An unnamed senior U.S. official said Thursday the U.S. will increase intelligence sharing with Turkey to help the country better target terrorists. U.S. officials hope the move will help allay Turkish concerns the weapons will end up in the hands of its enemies.
The U.S. official also said weapons have not yet been shipped to the Kurds. U.S. Colonel John Dorrian said Wednesday, however, the first shipment of weapons are ready for delivery and could reach the Kurds "very quickly."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has demanded that the U.S. reverse its decision, is scheduled to visit Washington next Tuesday. Erdogan has said he would discuss the issue with U.S. President Donald Trump when they meet.
The Syrian Kurds have been fortifying their positions around Raqqa, as it prepares for what the U.S. military has predicted will be a long battle to recapture the city.
Some material for this story comes from AP, AFP and Reuters.