President Trump has signed off on a plan to arm Syrian Kurds, which the U.S. considers an important ally in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), officials announced Tuesday.
“Yesterday, the president authorized the Department of Defense to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa, Syria,” Pentagon chief spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.
“The SDF, partnered with enabling support from U.S. and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future," she added.
The plan is sure to rile Turkey, which considers the Kurds terrorists and an extension of outlawed Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.
The U.S. military has debated for months how best to proceed as forces prepare to retake Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital in Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Force, a coalition of both Kurdish and Arab fighters, has been working to isolate the city.
But whether the Kurds will lead the assault on the city and whether to arm them directly have been points of contention between the U.S. and Turkey, a NATO ally.
The simmering tensions between the Kurds and Turkey reached a boiling point last month when Turkish forces bombed and killed some U.S.-aligned Kurds. The U.S. military then sent forces to patrol the Turkey-Syria border.
In Tuesday’s statement, the Pentagon sought to reassure Turkey that the U.S. is committed to its security.
“We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey,” White said. “We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally.”
The U.S. is still prioritizing support for the Arab part of the SDF, she added.
“Raqqa and all liberated territory should return to the governance of local Syrian Arabs,” she said. “The fight for Raqqa will be long and difficult, but will ultimately be yet another defeat for ISIS, and another step toward eliminating the ISIS threat to peace and security in the region and the world.”
According to NBC, some of the arms that could go to the Kurds include bulldozers, engineering equipment, rifles, ammunition, armor and communication gear. They could be delivered by ground convoys, C-130 transport aircraft and air drops, NBC reported, citing unnamed U.S. defense officials.
It’s unclear whether the U.S. would provide heavier equipment to the Kurds.
Defense Secretary James Mattis was in Denmark on Tuesday meeting with officials from more than a dozen nations fighting ISIS, including Turkey.
After the meeting, he told reporters the U.S. and Turkey are working out their differences over the Kurds.
"That's not to say we all walk into the room with exactly the same appreciation of the problem or the path forward," Mattis said, according to The Associated Press.
"We're going to sort it out," he added. "We'll figure out how we're going to do it."