President Donald Trump on Monday authorized the Pentagon to arm Kurdish militias in Syria in the drive to wrest control of Raqqa from the Islamic State, the Pentagon confirmed in statement.

“Yesterday, the president authorized the Department of Defense to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa, Syria,” spokeswoman Dana White said. “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.”

The Kurdish fighters, aligned with the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, are fighting under the umbrella of the SDF, a U.S.-backed coalition that also includes Arab militias. Several hundred American troops are also operating in Syria supporting local forces.

U.S. support for the YPG has drawn the ire of Turkey, a NATO ally that considers it an extension of the Kurdish Workers’ Party, known as the PKK, a designated terrorist group that has waged a decades-long campaign against Turkey.

Although the United States has previously provided military assistance to the SDF, the president’s decision is significant because it could diminish Turkey’s support for U.S. policies throughout the region, Ambassador James Jeffrey, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told POLITICO.

For example, Turkey could cut off U.S. access to Incirlik Air Base, a hub for U.S. air operations against ISIS, he said.

“To them this is a betrayal,” Jeffrey said. “If Turkey does cut off air operations in retaliation it could make our lives very difficult.”

Despite the move to arm the YPG, the Pentagon insisted it is still prioritizing its support for Arab elements of the SDF, the Pentagon said. “Raqqa and all liberated territory should return to the governance of local Syrian Arabs,” White 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,” White said.

At a press conference following the announcement, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he did not know if the president had spoken yet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about his decision.

The Pentagon statement did not specify what types of equipment it is providing to Kurdish elements. However, in the recently passed omnibus spending agreement, Congress banned the Pentagon from procuring shoulder-launched surface-to-air-missiles using funds designated for training and equipping anti-ISIS fighters – a top concern of Turkey.

The Turkish Embassy in Washington declined a request for comment.

Source: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/09/donald-trump-arms-syrian-kurds-raqqa-238167

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