U.S. to arm Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS despite Turkish opposition

by Frankie Norman May 10, 2017, 1:26
U.S. to arm Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS despite Turkish opposition

Ankara views the Kurdish YPG militia fighting within a larger US-backed coalition as the Syrian extension of the Kurdish PKK militant group, which has fought an insurgency in Turkey's southeast since 1984. The SDF is expected to spearhead the coming assault on the Islamic State capital of Raqqa.

U.S. President Donald Trump's defense secretary emerged upbeat on Tuesday from talks with a Turkish official about the fight against Islamic State but did not disclose any progress toward settling a row over U.S. backing for Kurdish fighters in Syria.

Acknowledging the long-held concerns of Turkey, the Pentagon statement said, "we are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey".

White said the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which include the Kurds, are the "only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future", a position long shared by senior American military commanders.

Other officials said Trump's authorization includes safeguards meant to reassure the Turks that the additional US weaponry and equipment will not be used by the Kurds in Turkey. "We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S.is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally".

President Trump approved the decision on Monday.

"Our intent is to work with the Turks, alongside one another, to take Raqqa down, and we're going to sort it out and we'll figure out how we're going to do it", Mattis told a news conference, after defense talks with members of the USA -led coalition battling Islamic State.

Turkey allows the US -led coalition fighting ISIS to use one of its air bases for warplanes involved in the fight, but one risk for the Americans is that Erdogan could withdraw that permission over his objections about the Kurds.

The YPG dominates a group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, which also includes Arab, Christian and Turkmen fighters that have been the Pentagon's premier proxy force fighting the Islamic State in Syria.

"The YPG is an arm of the PKK".

Tensions escalated last month when Turkey conducted airstrikes on Kurdish bases in Syria and Iraq. The strikes were part of an ongoing counterterrorism operation targeting members of the YPG.

There has been wide support from senior US military officials to provide direct arms to Syrian Kurdish forces, but sensitivities about Turkish opposition has delayed such a decision.

When asked whether the new arms deal with the YPG could put USA forces in danger from Turkish airstrikes, Pentagon spokesman Maj. The Kurdish elements of the SDF are from the Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) and they have been the main faction fighting IS on the ground in Syria. They said the USA would not provide artillery or surface-to-air missiles. "The coalition will continue to work in close coordination with partner forces and allies to remain focused on delivering a lasting defeat to ISIS".

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