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US arms Syrian Kurdish militia fighting IS

May 31, 2017

The US has started distributing arms to Syrian Kurdish militia fighting the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) in northern Syria. Tensions with Turkey are likely to rise as a result.

Syrien Volksverteidigungseinheit YPG
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Syrian Kurdish fighters with the People's Protection Units (YPG) started receiving small arms and vehicles from the US military on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said.

"We have begun to transfer small arms and vehicles to the Kurdish elements" of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Rankine-Galloway said, referring to the Kurdish-Syrian Arab alliance fighting IS.

The weapons include AK-47s and small-caliber machine guns, the spokesman added.

Tensions have risen this year between the US and Turkey after Washington said it planned to arm the YPG, a group that Washington has backed in the fight against IS but which Ankara considers to be a terrorist group.

Ankara says the YPG is the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984 and is also considered a terrorist group by the US and the EU.

Iraq's Kurdish forces , known as the peshmerga, have received some of the most extensive support from the coalition, including training, arms and air support. They have also been accused of destroying Arab property and forcing Arab residents out of dozens of villages retaken from IS.

On the Turkish side of the Syrian border with a US flag at the People's Protection Units (YPG) position in the Syrian city of Tal-Abyad.
A US flag flying over a Syrian YPG position near the Turkish border in 2016Image: Getty Images/AFP

Untracked arms

Ankara has yet to react.  

Turkey has consistently warned the US its decision to arm Kurdish forces fighting IS in Syria could end up damaging US-Turkey relations. Ankara is concerned that advances made by the YPG in northern Syria could inflame the PKK insurgency on Turkish soil. There are also concerns in accounting for weapons supplied to local fighters.

US officials have said new weapons to be supplied would include heavy machine guns, ammunition, mortars and possibly anti-tank missiles. The weapons would not be reclaimed after the specific missions are completed, but the US will "carefully monitor" where and how they are used, coalition spokesman Colonel John Dorrian said.

Amnesty International released a report this month detailing a 2016 US Defense Department audit concerning the whereabouts of weapons provided to Iraqi forces for use against IS worth $1 billion (890 million euros).

jbh/jm (AP, Reuters)