World US announces plans to arm YPG ahead of Erdogan's Washington visit

US announces plans to arm YPG ahead of Erdogan's Washington visit
Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) head a convoy of US military vehicles in the town of Darbasiya next to the Turkish border, Syria, April 28, 2017. (Photo: Reuters/Rodi Said)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) – The Pentagon on Tuesday announced President Donald Trump had authorized the Defense Department to directly arm the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) for the upcoming battle to liberate Raqqa, the Syrian capital of the Islamic State (IS).

The announcement follows several days of high-level talks between senior US officials, including Trump himself, and General Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s Chief of General Staff, as well as Hakan Fidan, head of Turkish intelligence.  

The senior Turkish officials had come to Washington ostensibly to prepare for the May 16 visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The most important part of their mission, however, focused on trying to convince US authorities the YPG was an integral component of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). 

Turkey contends that US arms to the YPG will end up in the hands of the PKK, which both the US and Turkey consider a “terrorist” group.

The US decision, announced just days before Erdogan’s visit, raises the possibility the Turkish president may cancel his trip to Washington, although Ankara had no immediate response to Tuesday’s announcement.

The US decision came in a statement from the Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Dana W. White who was traveling with Secretary of Defense James Mattis in Europe, where he had attended a conference of the anti-IS coalition.

“Yesterday, the president authorized the Department of Defense,” the Pentagon statement began, “to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as necessary to ensure a clear victory over [IS] in Raqqa.” 

“The SDF is the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future,” it said.

The US is keen to minimize damage to its ties with Ankara, and Mattis also spoke by telephone to Turkey’s defense minister on Tuesday.

The Pentagon statement explained, “We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey.” To that end, we continue “to prioritize our support for Arab elements of the SDF.”

“Raqqa and all liberated territory should return to the governance of local Syrian Arabs,” the statement added. 

Trump’s decision to arm the YPG is consistent with previous decisions of his young presidency.

He has made a point of giving his military commanders far more leeway than did his predecessor, Barack Obama. Unlike Obama, Trump avoids micromanaging their decisions.

It has long been the position of US commanders in the field that only the YPG is capable of liberating Raqqa. 

Trump has also said ensuring the quick defeat of IS is one of the top priorities of his presidency. 

 

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany