Shared from the 5/10/2017 Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition eEdition

Trump approves arming Kurds in Syria

The decision is sure to enrage Turkey, which links the fighting force to what it considers aterrorist group.

President Trump has approved a plan to directly arm Kurdish forces fighting in Syria as part of a U.S. military plan to capture Raqqa, the Syrian city that is the Islamic State’s de facto capital, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said the president made the decision on Monday and described the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, as “the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”

“We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey,” White said in a statement. “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.”

The decision, first reported by NBC, is sure to enrage Turkey, the NATO ally that views the YPG as a threat and has rebuked the United States for partnering with the group in its fight against extremists in Syria.

White provided no details on what kind of weaponry would be provided to the Kurdish fighters or when. The YPG, which dominates a diverse group of fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has emerged as the United States’ premier partner force against the Islamic State in Syria.

That partnership has generated friction with Ankara, which sees the YPG as an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by both Turkey and the United States.

The Turkish position has created a dilemma for U.S. military officials, who see no viable alternative force in Syria capable of and willing to mount an assault on the Islamic State stronghold. Already, the YPG has received air support from the United States and, indirectly through Arab fighters, some U.S. weaponry.

Neither the Trump administration, nor the Obama administration before it, had made any secret of its intention to give the Syrian Kurds a primary role in isolating Raqqa leading up to the planned offensive. Defense officials have said repeatedly that such a role would require direct weapons shipments and upgrading the equipment provided to move through what are expected to be vast minefields and other obstacles leading into Raqqa.

Turkish officials have privately acknowledged that the matter appeared to be decided. But they have continued to complain publicly about what they framed as a counterproductive U.S. strategy that amounted to enlisting a terrorist group to fight another terrorist group.

Turkey has continued to lobby the Trump administration to change course in the days leading up to Erdogan’s visit, dispatching top Turkish officials, including General Hulusi Akar, the military chief of staff, and Hakan Fidan, the intelligence chief, to Washington. A Turkish delegation briefly met with President Trump on Monday, according to a report in the Turkish Daily Sabah newspaper.

Trump is expected to officially inform Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of his decision on Tuesday, when Erdogan visits the White House.

To soften the blow, senior administration and military officials have been in near constant contact with their Turkish counterparts to assure them the Kurds will not be part of the force that enters Raqqa and will not dominate the establishment of a new local government.

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