By Mario Trujillo - 08/11/14 08:00 AM EDT
The U.S. government began directly arming Kurdish forces in Iraq who are battling the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), sometimes called ISIL, according to The Associated Press.
Citing U.S. officials, the AP reported the Pentagon was not the agency arming the fighters. The Pentagon generally provides arms directly to governments, but an official said the U.S. military is close to a deal to arm the Kurdish forces as well.
The AP noted that the CIA has conducted similar arms deals in the past.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) lauded the news on Monday.
“Report that US has begun directly arming Kurds is excellent news. If true, [important and] necessary step by Obama [administration],” he said in a tweet.
The State Department on Monday downplayed the AP report.
"As we said last week, ISIL has obtained some heavy weaponry, and the Kurds need additional arms and we're providing those — there's nothing new here," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement to The Hill.
Harf said the United States is working with the Iraqi government to "accelerate deliveries of badly needed arms to the Kurdish forces in the north."
Iraqi forces have provided arms to the Kurdish fighters, and the United States is "working to do the same," Harf said.
The move comes on top of President Obama's authorization of airstrikes in the region last week. Since Friday, the United States has launched four rounds of strikes.
The Pentagon said it is using targeted airstrikes to help push back ISIS forces to protect civilians. It also said it could use airstrikes to protect U.S. personnel if ISIS attempts to approach the Kurdish capital of Erbil.
The U.S. military has also been dropping humanitarian supplies to help the thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority who have been stranded near Mount Sinjar, fleeing from ISIS.
The U.S. military and others have dropped 74,000 meals and more than 15,000 gallons of water to the civilians, with the latest drop coming Sunday night.
— Justin Sink contributed.