US to arm Kurds in Syria over Turkey’s objections

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A convoy of US forces armoured vehicles drives near the village of Yalanli, on the western outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Manbij, on March 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN

In a move sure to anger Turkey, President Donald Trump has approved a plan to provide arms to Kurdish militia in Syria, a key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and considered critical in the drive to recapture Raqqa, the terrorist group’s de facto capital.

“The (Syrian Democratic Forces), partnered with enabling support from U.S. and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future,” chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said in a statement, as reported by NBC News on Tuesday.

NATO ally Turkey, however, views the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a four-decade-long war for autonomy within Turkish borders in which more than 40,000 people have been killed. The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by the US and the EU as well as Ankara.

Turkey has frequently criticized the US for partnering with the YPG in its fight against extremists in Syria and has warned Washington against arming the group directly, despite the fact that the YPG has received air support from the US and some weaponry indirectly through Arab fighters.

The decision, which has not yet been formally announced, will soon be officially conveyed to Turkey, with the Pentagon expecting a harsh reaction. It will also be a point of contention next week when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan meets for the first time with Trump.

“We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner 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 NATO ally,” said White in her statement.

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