Ankara considers US-backed Syrian rebels to be linked to separatists in Turkey
Washington says it is ‘keenly aware’ of Turkey’s concerns about to provide arms to Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces
US President Donald Trump has authorised limited supplies of arms to Syrian Kurdish rebel forces, the Pentagon announced on Tuesday.
The move is likely to further strain relations between the Washington and Ankara, which views Syrian Kurdish forces as terror groups linked to seperatists in Turkey.
“Yesterday, the President authorised the Department of Defense to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa, Syria,” chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said in a statement, referring to the Islamic State group’s de-facto Syrian ‘capital’.
Turkey, which has provided the US-led coalition in Syria with access to a strategic Turkish air base, gave no immediate reaction.
The Pentagon sought to stress the reasoning behind its decision, saying that it was “necessary to ensure a clear victory” against the IS group in Raqqa.
“We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey,” Pentagon 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.”
White added that Washington would still prioritise supplying those Arab fighters within the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is also comprised of Kurdish YPG fighters.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, speaking before the announcement, appeared optimistic about working through disagreements after a meeting with coalition officials.
“Our intent is to work with the Turks, alongside one another, to take Raqqa down, and we’re going to sort it out and we’ll figure out how we’re going to do it,” Mattis told reporters in Denmark.
Ankara has long insisted that the US support Turkish-trained Syrian rebels over the YPG militia. Washington, however, has indicated scepticism over whether the Turkish-backed force is capable of seeing through the ground battle for Raqqa.
White alluded to the Trump administration’s reservations about Ankara’s preferred militia, saying: “The SDF, partnered with enabling support from US and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”
According to one US official, the equipment could include small arms, ammunition, machine guns, armored vehicles, and engineering equipment.