A Pentagon spokesperson said on Tuesday, May 30, that the US military has begun supplying arms and equipment to Kurdish groups within the Syrian Democratic Forces which are fighting Islamic State.
FIRST ON NBC NEWS: US military begins providing weapons & equipment to Syrian Kurds, per 2 US defense officials
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“I can confirm the US-led coalition has begun issuing arms and equipment to Kurdish elements of the SDF. These initial deliveries consist of small arms and vehicles.
Overall, the equipment the US-led coalition will provide to the SDF includes small arms, ammunition, heavy machine guns and weapons capable of defeating specific threats our partner forces are expected to encounter as they take the fight to a desperate enemy, such as heavily-armored vehicle-borne IEDs.”
US Defense Department spokesperson Mjr. Adrian Rankine-Galloway
Rakine-Galloway said the SDF, backed by US and coalition forces, are “the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”
According to Military Times, Eric Pahon, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said that Kurdish fighters are receiving basic military equipment, and any further supplies would target “specific military objectives.”
Pahon said the US would supply rifles, machine guns, personal protective equipment and vehicles such as IAG Guardian armored personnel carriers and bulldozers.
Rankine-Galloway told AFP that weapons supplied include AK-47s and small-caliber machine guns.
“Our goal is to issue this stuff strictly on an as-needed basis,” Pahon said. “We are confident that we can monitor the equipment we are issuing to ensure it is only used against ISIS.”
The US has previously equipped Syrian Arab Coalition elements with the SDF with arms and equipment including IAG Guardians, and spokesperson for the Coalition Col. John Dorrian said on May 10 that he expected Kurds and SAC to be provided the same resources.
Coalition says SDF will decide when to launch final assault on Raqqa
In a May 31 email to Grasswire, a spokesperson for the Coalition reiterated that it will continue to prioritize Arab fighters, and the equipment provided to the SDF will be “limited and mission-specific.”
Asked when the final assault on Raqqa is likely to begin, the spokesperson said the SDF would make the decision on when to begin or announce the assault on the city, but hinted that the new equipment may make an impact on the battlefield soon, saying: “Resources will be metered out and specifically aligned with various tasks that the SDF are trying to accomplish to isolate and then liberate Raqqah.”
Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish YPG force, its all-women YPJ element, and the PYD political party as terrorist organisations, inextricably linked to the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is designated as terrorist by Turkey, the US, the EU and others.
Reacting to the development on May 31, Turkey’s National Security Council (MGK) said that the US providing support to the Syrian Kurdish groups is not befitting of alliance with Turkey, Daily Sabah reported.
Earlier, Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said: “The weapons given to the terrorist organization can be used against all humanity.… These steps are extremely dangerous in terms of Syria’s national unity and border integrity.”
May 9 announcement
The move comes after US President Donald Trump approved a Pentagon plan to arm Kurdish groups on May 9.
At the time, Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White would not say what kind of weaponry will be provided to Kurdish fighters, but other officials indicated that 120mm mortars, machine guns, ammunition and light armoured vehicles were possibilities, and that the US would not provide heavier artillery or surface-to-air missiles.
Citing an unnamed Pentagon source, the BBC said equipment would include ammunition, small arms, machine guns, heavy machine guns, construction equipment such as bulldozers and armoured vehicles.
In an effort to reassure Turkey, the US military has said that some equipment will only be given for specific missions.
Spokesperson for the Coalition Col. John Dorrian said on May 10 that weapons will not be reclaimed after missions are completed, but the US will “carefully monitor” where and how they are used, AP reported.
Turkey’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister reacted angrily to the plan, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan said: “I hope very much that this mistake will be reversed immediately.”