Thu, May 11, 2017 - Page 6 News List

US to arm Kurdish battling IS

ANKARA ANGST:Turkey says the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been waging an insurgency in the nation since 1984

AFP, VILNIUS

The US on Tuesday announced it would supply arms and military equipment to Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, a move likely to anger key ally Turkey, which considers the Kurdish forces to be terrorists.

The weapons are to go to the fighters ahead of a upcoming offensive to recapture Raqqa, the last major bastion for the Islamic State group in Syria and the capital of their supposed “caliphate.”

US President Donald Trump on Monday “authorized the [US] Department of Defense to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement, using an acronym for the Islamic State group. “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.”

The equipment is to include small arms, ammunition, machine guns, armored vehicles and engineering plant such as bulldozers, a defense official said.

The Kurdish elements of the SDF are from the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and they have been the main faction fighting the Islamic State group on the ground in Syria, but Turkey says the YPG is linked to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) separatists inside Turkey, who have waged an insurgency since 1984 that has killed more than 40,000 people.

Turkish war planes carried out strikes on YPG forces in Syria last month and also hit Kurdish positions in neighboring Iraq, which Ankara described as “terrorist havens.”

Tuesday’s announcement came ahead of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington next week to meet Trump.

Middle East Institute senior fellow Charles Lister said it was unclear how Washington could allay Turkey’s concerns.

He said that the US National Counter-Terrorism Center had previously labeled the YPG as the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, but scrapped that description once the US began working with them in late 2014.

“There really cannot be any ignoring the fact that the YPG is the official affiliate of a terrorist organization that Turkey has been fighting for over 30 years,” Lister said. “We have many reasons to be very frustrated with the Turks, but Ankara has a justified reason for being infuriated by our support for the YPG.”

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who arrived in Vilnius late on Tuesday as part of a European trip, earlier attended a summit in Copenhagen for senior leaders from the top 15 nations in the anti-Islamic State coalition, including Turkey.

Mattis gave a positive assessment of the role Turkey is to play.

“Our intent is to work with the Turks, alongside one another to take Raqqa down,” Mattis said.

White later said Mattis had spoken with Turkish Minister of National Defense Fikri Isik and reassured him of the US’ commitment to protecting its NATO ally.

“Equipment provided to the SDF will be limited, mission specific and metered out incrementally as objectives are reached,” White said, adding that the US foresees Raqqa eventually being governed by Arabs, not Kurds.

The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria discussed the campaign’s next steps as the militants’ “caliphate” around Raqqa is collapsing.

Though officials warn that military action would continue for some time, they are generally upbeat about the progress and quickening momentum of the fight.

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