President Donald Trump authorized the Department of Defense to arm Syrian Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State on Monday, a decision which is likely to anger Turkey, a another key ally in the fight.
Kurdish forces within the Syrian Democratic Forces will now have access to U.S. weaponry in addition to ongoing air support. Turkey has expressed concerns over arming the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, commonly referred to as the YPG, due to their connections to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a Marxist group designated as a terrorist group by both the U.S. and Turkey.
The Pentagon defended Trump’s decision, claiming the SDF are the only ground force available that is capable of retaking Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital.
“The SDF, 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,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White in a statement Tuesday.
White acknowledged Turkey’s concerns, but said “the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally.”
Turkey is also a key member of the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition fighting ISIS forces. The country’s Incirlik air base has served as a key staging area for air operations against the terrorist group since the early days of U.S. operations against the terrorist group.
The U.S. will continue to prioritize supporting Arab elements within the SDF, despite the decision to arm the Kurds, according to White.
“Raqqa and all liberated territory should return to the governance of local Syrian Arabs,” she added.
Turkey is concerned that Syrian Kurdish elements along the country’s southern border could pose a threat to its national security in the future. PKK separatists in southeastern Turkey have been engaged in conflict with the Ankara government for well over thirty years.
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