United States to equip Kurdish fighters in Syria

FBI Director James Comey arrives for a meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Organized Crime Council and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Executive Committee in Washington D.C

United States to equip Kurdish fighters in Syria

A defense official told NPR's Tom Bowman that the USA plans to provide the Kurdish forces with small arms, including rifles and machine guns, as well as other military equipment.

President Trump has approved a plan to directly arm Kurdish forces fighting in Syria as part of a U.S. military plan to capture Raqqa, the Syrian city that is the Islamic State group's de facto capital, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

"The SDF, partnered with enabling support from USA and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future", said White.

There was no immediate reaction from Turkey, whose president, Tayyip Erdogan, is expected to meet Trump in Washington next week. White said Washington would still prioritize supplying those Arab fighters within the SDF.

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Turkish forces moved into northern Syria late a year ago, ostensibly to fight the Islamic State, but equally to ensure that YPG forces did not consolidate their control of the border. Both Washington and Ankara consider the PKK a terrorist group, but the USA military has long said the YPG represent the best fighters on the ground in Syria against ISIS.

The YPG makes up a significant portion of the 50,000-fighter Syrian Democratic Forces, which is a key ally to the U.S.in the fight against ISIS.

"The Turks are going to be unhappy with this because they, in no way, want to see any kind of bolstering of strength of Kurdish forces in that area", Al Jazeera's Charles Stratford said, reporting from Gaziantep along the Turkey-Syria border.

The Turkish president, fresh from winning the controversial April 16 referendum on enhancing his powers, has indicated that the rewards for Washington in breaking up with the YPG could be high by spurring Turkish involvement in a joint operation to take the IS fiefdom of Raqa.

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As many as 1,000 U.S. troops are working alongside the SDF inside Syria.

"We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey, " White said in a statement. "Raqqa and all liberated territory should return to the governance of local Syrian Arabs".

But a group of Kurdish fighters, commonly referred to as the People's Protection Units or YPG, is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, another US ally fighting ISIS. That force, United States officials have said, will be comprised of the Arab fighters who are part of the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces.

For the USA administration, which is skeptical that the Turkish-backed force is large enough or sufficiently trained, the decision sets Trump's wish for quick battlefield victories against the need to maintain its strategic alliance with Turkey. Kurdish forces have always been considered among the most reliable groups in the fight against ISIS. However, over the last several weeks, Ankara has conducted a unilateral air campaign against Kurdish targets in Syria.

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"We're going to sort it out", Mattis said.

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