U.S. Approves Plan to Arm SDF

The Trump Administration has approved a plan to provide weapons to arm the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella militia operating in northern Syria that has become a crucial American ally against the Islamic State.

NBC News reported the approval on May 9, 2017. Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said in a statement, “The SDF, partnered with enabling support from U.S. and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”

The approval itself came on May 8, 2017. A readout of the statement said, “[T]he 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.” ISIS is the former name for the Islamic State.

No specifics on weapons approved for delivery were given. It is likely the United States would provide engineering equipment as well as small arms and communication gear, according to NBC News. Equipment could be delivered through ground convoys or air transportation, depending on the circumstances.

Some military equipment may already have found its way to the SDF and its largest constituent militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia referenced in the above statement. Images purporting to show YPG fighters have shown them equipped with U.S.-made military equipment, though much of it is commercially available.

Beyond likely objections from Damascus, the move will provoke anger from the United States’ NATO ally Turkey, which which does not distinguish between the YPG and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, a group listed by both Turkey and the United States as a terror organization. NBC News noted the Pentagon expects a “strong reaction” from Turkey over the decision.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is due to visit the United States next week to meet with his American counterpart President Donald Trump, a meeting that will already be tense given a series of Turkish airstrikes last month that targeted the YPG and PKK.

Following those strikes, the YPG retaliated on Turkish military positions.

The United States views the SDF as able to counter the Islamic State and wants the umbrella group to provide the main part of the forces that will oust the Islamic State from its former capital, Raqqa.

Turkey opposes further support of the YPG, including arms transfers. The Turkish-backed Euphrates Shield operation in northern Aleppo was aimed at pushing the Islamic State terror group away from the Turkish border while also preventing the YPG from connecting several areas under its control in Syria.

Ankara has offered its own plan for taking Raqqa, but as of yet the United States has not seemed receptive.

UPDATE: This post has been updated to include the date of approval, May 8, 2017.

About Derek Bisaccio

Military markets analyst, covering Eurasia, Middle East, and Africa.

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