US anti-IS envoy visits Kurdish, Arab fighters in Syria: sources

QAMISHLI, SYRIA- A delegation including senior US diplomat Brett McGurk met members of a Kurd-Arab alliance fighting the Islamic State jihadist group inside Syria, Kurdish sources said Sunday.
The weekend visit to the war-torn country -- confirmed by a US official -- appeared to be the first by a senior US government figure inside Syrian territory.

McGurk, who is US President Barack Obama's envoy to an international coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq, was accompanied by French and British officials, the sources told AFP.
One Kurdish source close to the meeting said a "high-level military delegation from the international coalition (against IS)," met Saturday with senior members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance.
The source said the talks in the Kurdish town of Kobane covered "military plans" for the fight against IS.
"These meetings will have an impact on many developments that will be seen in the area," he added, without providing further details.
The talks were confirmed by a second Kurdish source on the ground and reported in Kurdish media.
A US official said that McGurk visited Syria at the weekend to take stock of the campaign against IS extremists, but gave few other details.
"This visit and the discussions he had are in keeping with the special envoy's efforts to continue looking for ways to increase coalition pressure on ISIL," said the official, using an alternative acronym for the jihadists.
The SDF is an alliance of Syrian Kurds and Arabs who are fighting IS with support from the US-led coalition.
It is composed mostly of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a powerful militia that has proved Syria's most effective force against IS, along with smaller units of Syrian Arab Muslim and Christian fighters.
- Geneva talks -
The meetings come after the YPG's political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), was excluded from new peace talks in Geneva being organised by the UN.
Despite cooperation between the US-led coalition and the YPG in the fight against IS, the Kurdish militia and its political branch face fierce opposition from neighbouring Turkey.
Ankara considers the PYD and YPG to be affiliates of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged an armed insurgency in Turkey, while Syria's opposition accuses them of being too close to the regime in Damascus.
But the coalition has worked closely with the YPG since it launched air strikes in Syria in September 2014, expanding a campaign that began in Iraq a month earlier.
And that support has continued since the formation of the SDF last October, with US-led air support helping the alliance seize a key dam from IS last month.
US-based Kurdish affairs analyst Mutlu Civiroglu said McGurk's visit appeared intended to assuage the Kurds after their exclusion from the Geneva talks.
"The goal is to ease Kurdish anger and give them reassurances that they are not being ignored and that they have a part in this process," he said.
Kurdish sources earlier told AFP that US Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken had called PYD chair Saleh Muslim to discuss Washington's view on the Kurdish issue and the peace talks.

Monday, February 1st 2016

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