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Trump vows NATO support in call to Turkish president

In their first phone call, Turkish President Erdogan asked Donald Trump to end American support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia
Turkish President Erdogan and Donald Trump (AFP)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump agreed in a phone call overnight to act together regarding the Islamic State controlled Syrian towns of al-Bab and Raqqa, Turkish presidential sources said on Wednesday.

The two leaders discussed issues including a safe zone in Syria, the refugee crisis and the fight against terror, the sources said. They said Erdogan called on the United States not to support the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

"President Trump reiterated US support to Turkey as a strategic partner and NATO ally, and welcomed Turkey's contributions to the counter-ISIS campaign," the White House said in a statement, referring to the IS.

The Turkish sources also said CIA Director Mike Pompeo was to visit Turkey on Thursday to discuss the YPG and battling the network of US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating a July coup attempt.

The Americans' support for the YPG in northern Syria, where they have been a major force fighting against IS, has enraged Ankara, who see the group as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who are currently engaged in a war against the Turkish state.

READ: Nowhere to run: The case for Syria's safe zones 

In January, the US provided the Arab-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - of which the YPG are the main component - with armoured vehicles for the first time, according to a US official and a spokesman for the SDF.

The delivery appeared to be the first under President Donald Trump's administration, though the original decision pre-dates his January 20 inauguration, and comes after he gave the US military 30 days to deliver a plan to "defeat" IS.

Washington has long partnered with the SDF alliance to battle IS in Syria, which has been ravaged by conflict since an anti-government uprising that began in March 2011.

But SDF spokesman Talal Sello said Trump's administration had now promised "extra support".

US military spokesman Colonel John Dorrian said the armoured sports utility vehicles had been provided to the "Syrian Arab Coalition", a grouping of Arab factions within the SDF.

He told AFP the decision was made "using existing authorities, in the interest of helping protect our partnered force from the (IS) improvised-explosive device threat."

"The decision was made by military commanders, and has been in the works for some time," he added.

Islamic State 'besieged'

The Trump-Erdogan phone call comes as a monitor said on Monday that IS is "completely besieged" in its last major stronghold in Syria's Aleppo province.

IS fighters were cut off in Al-Bab after forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad's government severed a road into the northern town, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

READ: From St Petersburg to Astana: The Russian-Turkish accord has run its course

"Al-Bab is now completely besieged by the regime from the south, and the Turkish forces and rebels from the east, north and west," the monitor said.

Trumpon  Monday pledged that America and its allies would defeat the "forces of death" and keep IS from gaining a foothold on US soil.

"Today we deliver a message in one very unified voice to these forces of death and destruction - America and its allies will defeat you," Trump said as he visited US Central Command, which plays a key role in the US-led mission to fight IS in Iraq and Syria.

"We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism. And we will not allow it to take root in our country," he said.

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