US arming Syrian Kurds to take Raqqa from ISIS

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Kurdish SDF fighters (R), an ISIS militant (L). Photo: Jinda Ibrahim/ARA News

ARA News

WASHINGTON – The US administration is considering a plan to directly arm the Syrian Kurds to fight ISIS, after the Turkish intervention risked the US of losing Kurdish support to take the city of Raqqa. 

Jordan Matson, an American volunteer with the Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, told ARA News that the US administration bending to Erdogan’s demands would effectively stop the war on ISIS, since the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would not commit to the Raqqa operation without cutting off ISIS supply lines between Syria and Turkey.

“By stalling this you have saved Raqqa for possibly years to come as no one else will take it,” he said.

Therefore, the US administration is now thinking of directly arming the Syrian Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to fight ISIS in order to keep the Kurdish support, despite of opposition from Turkey, the New York Times reported on Wednesday. 

The move could be possibly the only way to gain support and trust from the SDF forces that wanted to connect the canton administrations from Afrin to Kobane, but this was prevented by a Turkish intervention in Jarabulus.

According to Barak Barfi, a Research Fellow for New America Foundation, the Turkish intervention in Jarablus complicated the US plan for Raqqa.

“The entry of Turkey into the Syrian conflict will have negative ramifications for any potential operation against the ISIS de facto capital of Raqqa,” he told ARA News.

“The YPG [a Kurdish force and leading member of the SDF] is now focused on a lurking battle with the Turks, not a distant ISIS threat. Local politics have finally caught up with the American campaign against ISIS,” Barfi said.

Speaking to ARA News, Khaled Issa, the Rojava representative to France, said that before even the Turkish intervention in Syria’s Jarablus “every terrorist group was an enemy to the Kurds, and therefore the SDF would be willing to fight even in other cities outside of Rojava [Syria’s Kurdish region]”.

“But, to be realistic, before heading to Raqqa we have to prepare the conditions for the victory of Raqqa by establishing local councils and popular institutions there, and to prepare the military conditions for this battle,” he said.

However, Issa said it would be necessary for the YPG and SDF forces to first take northern Aleppo “which would unite the Kurdish-led canton administrations”.

“Everyone knows ISIS is supported through Turkey, so the US needs to support us to shut the Turkish border in the face of terrorists, and to liberate the Shahba area [northern Aleppo] to cut the border,” the Kurdish official told ARA News. 

“The best solution would be the Syrian Democratic Forces take Raqqa, not Assad,” he said, since they have a democratic project unlike the Syrian rebels or Assad.

The US Defence Secretary Ash Carter confirmed  that the United States will continue to work with the Kurds as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“[The US] will continue to support and work with them. We have provided them with some equipment already and providing them arms. They [Kurds] are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces,” he said during the armed services senate committee hearing on Thursday. 

Moreover, the defence secretary said he would do everything to help the SDF to move towards Raqqa, even if this means arming them.

“I support whatever is required to help them move in the direction of Raqqa,” he said.

General Joseph F. Dunford, Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff, also confirmed that the US continues to see the SDF as the main force against ISIS, but couldn’t answer if they would arm the Kurds. 

“They are the most effective force we have right now and a force we need to go in Raqqa,” he said. “The reason I support the SDF is my priority to stop the planning and conducting of operations moving forward with the SDF towards Raqqa is the way to do that.”

Arms Shipment Delivered to SDF, Turkey Outraged 

The US-led coalition started arming the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as part of the preparations to storm the ISIS major stronghold of Raqqa, northeast Syria, officials said on Saturday. 

Colonel John Dorrian, spokesman of the coalition’s Operation Inherent Resolve, said that they have already supplied arms to the SDF to continue the fight against ISIS in Syria.

This comes after reports suggested that the White House has been considering to directly arm Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) –leading member in the SDF– in order to push the Kurds to fight ISIS in Raqqa.

“Yeah, we have a program called the Syria Train & Equip fund in which we train and equip our partners in Syria. So we’ve been doing that for quite some time and will continue to do that,” Dorrian said.

“The SDF, which is our partner organization of vetted forces in Syria, have been stalwart partners and have done a very good job in taking the fight to Daesh. We continue to work with them and we intend to keep doing so,” he said.

Speaking to ARA News, Michael Stephens, Research Fellow for Middle East Studies and Head of RUSI Qatar, said that the White House will most likely push through directly arming the SDF.

“They will, but the question is to what end. It’s logical to expect the US directly arming the Kurds to encourage them to move towards Raqqah and redirecting them away from areas north of Aleppo, which could bring them in conflict with Turkey,” he said.

The move would most likely be opposed by Turkey.

“By giving them weapons, you’re endangering our future,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Bloomberg.

Andrew Tabler, a Martin J. Gross fellow at the Washington Institute, told ARA News that the Turkish intervention would not change the US policy towards the SDF.

“The Kurds carved out their areas quite skillfully, and therefore will remain part of the US policy, I heard nothing to the contrary,” he said.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg

Source: ARA News

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