by WorldTribune Staff, May 10, 2017
U.S. President Donald Trump has given the Pentagon the go-ahead to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters in the fight to drive Islamic State (ISIS) from its stronghold at Raqqa.
The green light was given just one week before Turkey’s president will visit the White House.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Trump has authorized equipping “Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS” in Raqqa.
The authorization of arms to the Kurds came despite strong opposition to the move from Turkey, the UK’s Guardian reported on May 9.
While the Kurdish-led SDF has been the U.S.-led coalition’s most effective battlefield partner against ISIS in northern and eastern Syria, Turkey views the Kurds as terrorists and opposes including them in the Raqqa operation.
The Kurdish units of the SDF are from the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey says are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group they call terrorists.
White said the SDF is “the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”
U.S. officials had indicated in recent days that the U.S. could send 120mm mortars, machines guns, ammunition and light armored vehicles to the Kurds. They said the U.S. would not provide artillery or surface-to-air missiles.
Senior U.S. officials, including Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, have met repeatedly with Turkish officials to try to work out an arrangement for the Raqqa assault that would be acceptable to Ankara.
White said the U.S. prioritizes its support for the Arab elements of the SDF.
“We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey,” she said. “We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our Nato ally.”
Other officials said Trump’s authorization includes safeguards intended to reassure the Turks that the additional U.S. weaponry and equipment will not be used by the Kurds in Turkey. The intent is to restrict the distribution and use of the weaponry by permitting its use for specific battlefield missions and then requiring the Kurds to return it to U.S. control, the officials said.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to visit Trump in Washington next week.