Despite fierce opposition from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Turkey, U.S. President Donald Trump has approved supplying arms to Kurdish YPG fighters to support an operation to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
The YPG, the armed faction of the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK which Turkey has labelled as a terrorist organization, is part of the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF - the consortium of Syrian Kurdish and Arab militias battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Washington is eager to retake Raqqa, arguing that it is a haven for IS operatives to plan attacks on the West.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been seeking to send a tough message to Donald Trump via air strikes against Syrian Kurdish fighters, an AFP report said in April.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday he had useful discussions with Turkey and the two countries are working out differences over a USA alliance with Syrian Kurds in fighting Islamic State militants.
"The U.S. continues to prioritize our support for Arab elements of the SDF", White said.
There has been wide support from senior US military officials to provide direct arms to Syrian Kurdish forces, but sensitivities about Turkish opposition has delayed such a decision. They said the USA would not provide artillery or surface-to-air missiles.
The funding "to provide support to the YPG has been approved", the official said on condition of anonymity. A congressional aide said officials informed relevant members of Congress of the decision on Monday evening.
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The decision to arm the Syrian Kurds will likely cast a shadow over Erdogan's visit to Washington, policy experts said.
The strikes reportedly killed at least 20 fighters of the YPG, which has proven to be the most effective anti-ISIS force in northeastern Syria.
In a reflection of the sensitivities in Ankara, the Pentagon spokeswoman, Dana White, issued a follow-up statement hours after her initial comments.
At the same time, USA leaders on Tuesday sought to stress they planned to continue to involve Turkey in the fight against ISIS. "We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally", White said.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen.
It is a move that has always been under consideration at the Pentagon but has been delayed due to strong opposition from American NATO ally Turkey. Corker says: "No. Sorry".
The YPG, which dominates a diverse group of fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has emerged as the United States' premier partner force against the Islamic State in Syria.
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