PENTAGON - The United States has provided Syrian fighters battling the Islamic State group with armored vehicles for the first time, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command told VOA.
Guardian armored security vehicles were delivered to the Syrian Arab Coalition, Major Michael Meyers said. The SAC is an Arab fighting force within the multi-ethnic, but predominantly Kurdish, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
A U.S. military spokesman, Colonel John Dorrian, said via teleconference from Baghdad Wednesday that the Guardians - fully armored, highly maneuverable and capable of carrying 10 soldiers each - will help SAC forces better “withstand explosive devices and small-arms fire."
“The Syrian Arab Coalition is getting ready to continue their operations to isolate Raqqa," Dorrian said. "As they approach the city and get into tough fighting, this capability is going to increase their survivability."
A VOA reporter in Kobani confirmed the vehicles, also known as M117s, were delivered on Tuesday. Each Guardian is equipped with machine guns and a grenade launcher.
Multiple U.S. defense officials said the delivery had “been in the works for months” and was carried out under authority granted during the Obama administration.
“There is no change to current policy by providing support to the Syrian Arab coalition,” Meyer said.
Washington has supplied the SDF with light weapons and special-forces advisers in the past and has provided air support against Islamic State fighters.
An estimated 20,000 SDF fighters are connected to the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist group. Even though the U.S. insists it only delivers military aid to the Arab fighters of the SDF, the assistance nonetheless has angered U.S. ally Turkey.
“Recognizing terror organizations as interlocutors and delivering arms to them through various ways will help terror gain strength and spread it,” the Turkish National Security Council said in a statement issued after a meeting Wednesday chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.