Trump rejects Obama’s plan to arm the Kurds in fight for Raqqa

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Soldiers of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) performing a traditional dance during a break after clashes with ISIS west of Raqqa. Photo: ARA News

ARA News

Trump’s national security team rejected a last moment plan by the Obama administration to arm the Kurds to take Raqqa from ISIS, the Washington Post reported on Thursday. However, analysts told ARA News that US President Donald Trump will eventually have to work with the Kurds to defeat ISIS in Raqqa.

Initially, the Obama administration was trying to work with Turkey to produce a force to take Raqqa, but finally they realized the Turks were not able to create a working force, and that the Kurds were the only option. The Turkey-backed rebels so far were not able to take al-Bab city in northern Syria, and were even forced to increase the number of Turkish ground troops.

With only three weeks in office, the Pentagon pushed Trump to arm the Kurds, warning that if Kurds would not receive weapons by mid-February, their offensive could be delayed up to a year.

Moreover, officials expressed their concerns about terrorist attacks being planned inside Raqqa on the targets in the West. According to reports, attacks in Europe and also in Turkey had been planned from Raqqa, the de-facto ISIS capital.

The Trump administration decided not to go ahead with Obama’s plan.

The Obama plan required U.S. forces to train the Kurds in using the new equipment and fighting in a densely packed city, but it lacked details about how many U.S. troops would be required and where the training would take place, a Trump administration official told the Washington post.

To the Trump team, it seemed that Obama administration officials had delayed authorizing the plan because they knew it was inadequate and did not want to be held responsible, the official said.

However, analysts say that Trump does not have many other options to fight ISIS in Syria.

“President Trump is simply asking for a review of all options from the U.S. military. The fact of the matter is that unless Turkey plans to commit more military force in Syria, or recruit more Arab fighters, the [Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces] SDF remains the best placed local partner force for the U.S. military,” Nicholas Heras, a Mideast researcher at the Centre for a New American Security told ARA News.

“If President Trump wants to commit more U.S. troops on the ground in Syria to hasten the fall of Raqqa, the American forward operating bases are in SDF territory,” he concluded.

Analysts also say that it’s unlikely that the Trump administration will work with the Syrian government forces or Turkey.

“He can try, but there are none, other than US ground forces. The regime and the Turks are too far away. Their options are very narrow — and he’ll have to face the same challenges Obama did,” Aaron Stein, a senior resident fellow at the Atlantic Council told ARA News.

In October, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad indicated that for the Syrian government Raqqa is no priority.

“Regarding al-Raqqa, of course it’s our mission, according to the constitution and according to the laws, that we have to liberate every inch of the Syrian land,” Assad said. “There’s no question about that, it’s not to be discussed. But it’s about when, what are our priorities, and this is military, regarding to the military planning, about the military priorities.”

Nevertheless, according to the Washington Post, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. is the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is one of the most passionate supporters of arming the Kurds, could be given a free hand by Trump, which could lead them right back to some variation of Obama’s plan to arm the Kurds.

Although the Kurds do not directly receive weapons, the Arab component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are being provided with heavy weapons, and recently received armored vehicles from the US-led coalition to fight ISIS in Raqqa.

“The resources that we’re providing to the Syrian Arab Coalition have helped them be successful in fighting Daesh [ISIS]. And that benefits not just the SDF, but that benefits all of our nations because this is a brutal enemy,” Colonel John Dorrian, coalition spokesperson, said on Wednesday.

Kurdish officials, therefore, have not expressed worries that the SDF forces would be ‘betrayed’ by the new Trump administration, and are sure the Arab component of the SDF will continue to receive weapons and training.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News

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