Pentagon wants Trump to arm Syrian Kurds, increase boots on the ground

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Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in western Raqqa. Photo: ARA News

ARA News

The Pentagon will submit a new plan to the Trump administration, outlining more aggressive options in Syria. The plan would provide Washington with the means to accelerate the war against the Islamic State (ISIS).

According to CNN, which confirmed the proposal’s contents, military planners and intelligence officials are currently mapping every air strip in Syria. The US-led coalition already has access to a number of air strips, which are used to support the SDF.

One option would be to put hundreds, if not thousands, of additional US troops on the ground, in a direct combat role. CNN said that the Pentagon could “put several US brigade-sized combat teams on the ground,” with each team bulked up to included “as many as 4,000 troops.”

However, the Pentagon told the news agency that the number of soldiers deployed depends on progress being made in the Defense Department’s train and equip program. The coalition has already trained thousands of recruits, who were vetted by the SDF.

Currently, the SDF has about 50,000 troops, including more than 27,000 soldiers from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). The self-administration in northern Syria also maintains a rearguard militia –the Self-Defense Forces (HXP).

Under this plan, US troops would not enter Raqqa city but would instead focus on securing strategic territories outside the city, calling in airstrikes and controlling access roads. In effect, the American military would maintain the perimeter, allowing the Arab Coalition to penetrate the Islamic State’s defenses.

The Pentagon told CNN that “Arab elements of the SDF are the ones who would eventually enter Raqqa, a predominantly Arab town.” The Trump administration will also have to decide whether to directly arm Kurdish soldiers, in order to control areas around Raqqa.

Turkey has already indicated that it does not want the Kurds in Syria to be strengthened militarily. While the US-led coalition sees the SDF as its sole reliable ally in Syria, Turkey believes that the alliance is a front for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The Pentagon has said that the Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians who make up the Syrian Democratic Forces, are the only fighters with the training and fortitude to secure Raqqa –the de facto capital of the would-be Caliphate. 

On Monday, the SDF said that since the start of Operation Euphrates Wrath their soldiers have liberated 3,200 km², including 236 villages, and eliminated more than 620 ISIS jihadists.

According to the Kurdish-led SDF, thousands of civilians have been freed in Raqqa’s western countryside. The civilians will be returned to their homes after their villages are liberated and demined.

General James Mattis, the new US Defense Secretary, in his confirmation hearing last week, said that the incoming administration will try to accelerate the Raqqa campaign. “I believe that strategy needs to be reviewed and perhaps energized on a more aggressive timeline.”

Concurrently, Assistant Secretary of Defense Elissa Slotkin said that the penultimate goal of the campaign is to isolate Raqqa. “Our commanders have a plan. You know that we’re in the beginning – or we’re in the middle actually of isolating Raqqa, and that’s going well.”

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg 

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