President Trump has approved a plan to arm Syrian Kurds so they can participate in the battle to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State, a strategy that has drawn deep opposition from Turkey, a NATO ally.
American military commanders have long argued that arming the Y.P.G., a Kurdish militia fighting alongside Syrian Arab forces against the Islamic State, is the fastest way to seize Raqqa, the capital of the militants’ self-proclaimed caliphate.
And Trump, who made fighting Islamist militants a priority during his campaign, again showed the high regard he has for Pentagon generals by endorsing their advice when faced with a policy dilemma.
Turkey has objected vociferously to such a move, raising fears of a backlash that could prompt the Turks to curtail their cooperation with Washington in the struggle against the Islamic State.
A high-level delegation of Turkish officials was informed of the decision by Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, when they visited the White House on Monday, and the Pentagon announced the move on Tuesday.
Trump’s decision on arming the Syrian Kurds comes as Iraqi forces, backed by American and allied air power and artillery, are making headway in Mosul. American military commanders have argued for simultaneous offenses in Raqqa and Mosul so the Islamic State would be forced to defend multiple fronts.
The president’s decision also comes as his top advisers recommended sending 3,000 to 5,000 more American troops to try to break a stalemate in another hot spot: the 15-year war in Afghanistan.
Dana W. White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement that the arming was necessary to ensure that Raqqa could be taken “in the near future.”
“Yesterday, the president authorized 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,” she said, using the name of the umbrella group for Arab and Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Ms. White added that the United States would take steps to ensure that Turkey did not face “additional security risks.”
However, Turkey has warned the US that the decision to arm Kurdish forces could end up hurting Washington, and accused U.S. of siding with terrorists.
Turkey views the YPG as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984 and considered a terrorist group by the US, Turkey and Europe.
Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara, “We want to believe that our allies will prefer to side with us, not with a terrorist organization,”, saying he would convey Turkey’s stance to Trump next week and at a NATO summit later this month. He said he hoped that recently taken decisions would be changed by the time he visits the United States.
Earlier, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters the U.S. failure to consider Turkey’s sensitivities “will surely have consequences and will yield a negative result for the U.S. as well”.
Weapons supplied to the YPG have in the past fallen into PKK hands, said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. He told a televised news conference “Both the PKK and YPG are terrorist organizations and they are no different apart from their names,”. “Every weapon seized by them is a threat to Turkey.”
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