Outgoing president Obama unlikely to directly arm Syrian Kurds

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Members of the YPG, YPJ and Syriac Military Council gather during a break in the suburb of the recently liberated town of al-Hawl. They all fight under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Photo: ARA News

ARA News 

With just a few days left in office, US President Barack Obama is unlikely to listen to the Pentagon and directly arm the Syrian Kurds. Kurdish units are advancing on Raqqa city, but are being hamstrung by a shortage of modern weapons.

Administration officials believe that Obama won’t resolve the contentious issue in the waning moments of his presidency. Instead, he will leave it to the incoming Trump administration.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon had urged Obama to arm the Syrian Kurds, “whom American commanders view as their most effective ground partner.”

Specifically, the Department of Defense wants the Kurds’ inventory to be expanded to include “armored vehicles, rocket-propelled-grenade launchers, machine guns and other heavy equipment.” The military also wants to expedite the Raqqa campaign, envisioning a major push in mid-February.

Washington already arms elements within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). On Tuesday, USA Today reported that the US Air Force is expediting its airdrops, but only to the Arab Coalition, to avoid upsetting Turkey.

“With only three days left before the handover it’s highly unlikely that President Obama will sign the measure to arm the Kurdish-led SDF directly,” reasoned Amberin Zaman, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

She pointed out that “there is agency and department-wide consensus” on this issue, but explained that there were other factors in play. Zaman believes that “the  most probable reason for Obama’s reluctance is Turkey’s likely reaction.”

“Turkey has already threatened to sever coalition access to the Incirlik Airbase and is also threatening to further escalate its attacks against the YPG,” she explained, in reference to the People’s Protection Units. “Obama likely does not want to carry the responsibility for such an outcome and is leaving this hot potato for Donald Trump.”

Nicholas Heras, a Mideast researcher at the Centre for a New American Security, concurred, telling ARA News that Obama would put this issue aside. “President Obama will likely not make any decision on arming the Kurds without first coordinating that decision with President-elect Trump.”

“The Obama administration is handing off a series of military options to accelerate the counter-ISIS campaign to President-elect Trump, most of which are sensitive to either the American public or to close regional partners like Turkey,” Heras added.

The Pentagon is also urging President-elect Trump to put hundreds –or even thousands– of additional US troops on the ground, near Raqqa. The military believes that the SDF is the only force able to secure the ground around Raqqa.

Concluding, Heras explained that “Obama is a firm believer in letting the next administration chart its course on the policy to take against ISIS.”

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News & Agencies 

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