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US to arm Syrian Kurds over Turkish protests

May 9, 2017

The White House has signed off on an order to arm Kurdish fighters whom Turkey classifies as terrorists. The US has doubled down on its position that Kurds provide crucial help in the fight against "Islamic State."

Syrien YPG in Rakka
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Suna

US to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria

The administration of US President Donald Trump approved a measure on Tuesday supplying weapons to Kurdish fighters over the fierce objections of NATO ally Turkey. The Pentagon stressed that assisting the People's Protection Units (YPG) was "necessary to ensure a clear victory" against the last "Islamic State" stronghold in Syria.

The YPG is an ethnic Kurdish militia tied to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has led an on-and-off insurgency in southeastern Turkey for three decades. It has been outlawed by Ankara as a terrorist organization.

"We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey," Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement. "We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the US is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally."

Pentagon: Kurds most effective against IS

The US has argued that local Kurdish fighters are some of the most effective partners in its coalition to defeat IS terrorists. Washington hopes to use the YPG to push the jihadists from Raqqa, their last stronghold in Syria.

YPG has allied itself with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has long received backing from the US. The Pentagon said on Tuesday that "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."

Control over Raqqa has changed hands twice during the course of Syria's six-year civil conflict. It was first overrun by moderate rebels in 2013, before IS captured it along with vast swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria in 2014.

The supplies delivered to the YPG are expected to include small arms, machine guns, engineering equipment, armored vehicles and ammunition.

es/kl (AP, Reuters)