President Donald Trump has authorized the Pentagon to equip the Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a move that places the United States at odds with NATO ally Turkey.
Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Dana W. White said Tuesday the Kurdish component, which makes up more than half of the SDF fighters, would be armed "as necessary to ensure a clear victory" over Islamic State in Raqqa, Syria.
"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," White said.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer confirmed the green-lighted equipping plan. A military official told VOA the U.S. will provide Kurdish forces around Raqqa with small arms, machine-guns, ammunition, and armored vehicles to counter improvised explosive devices and construction equipment.
“Weapons will be metered out to achieve limited military objectives,” the military official said.
Ankara opposes Washington's alliance with Syrian Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State. Turkey contends the SDF's Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, is a terrorist group affiliated with the outlawed PKK — the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a terror group that has been battling the Turkish state for many years.
White said the Pentagon is "keenly aware" of Turkey's security concerns and the U.S. is committed to "preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally."
Turkey’s top general, Hulusi Akar, met with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford on Friday. Lt. Commander John Fage, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told VOA that Dunford and Akar “discussed issues of mutual concern, as well as the current security situation in the Middle East, including the campaign to defeat ISIS.”
The move provides U.S. support for the entire Syrian Democratic Force, Syrian Kurds (YPG) and the Syrian Arab Coalition, which American forces have openly supported for months.
The Pentagon says Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis spoke via phone Tuesday with Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik, with both leaders affirming their support for peace and stability in Iraq and Syria.