(TFC) The United States has once again officially changed its preferred ally in Syria. The Donald Trump administration and Department of Defense appear, for the moment, to have swung away from arming “moderate rebels”, admittedly working side-by-side with the Islamic state, in an attempt to oust the Syrian President Bashar Assad. Last month the State Department told Congress the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency was authorized to transfer nearly $300 million worth of weapons, vehicles and other equipment to Kurdish units. This move is now approved by lawmakers, and the weapons transfers have begun in preparation offensive aimed to recapture the city of Raqqa, the heart of ISIS territory and the last major bastion for IS in Syria.
“We have begun to transfer small arms and vehicles to the Kurdish elements” of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said, referring to a Kurdish-Syrian Arab alliance fighting IS.
The weapons include AK-47s and small-caliber machine guns, Rankine-Galloway added.
This decision has drawn strong condemnation from Turkey, as Turkey views the Kurdish fighters in Syria as opposition forces, or as being allied with terrorists because of their connection to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been trying to carve out its own independent state within Turkey. The U.S., however, believes the Kurdish (SDF) in Syria are some of the country’s best fighters and considers arming them necessary to secure victory in the upcoming offensive. Turkey’s worries about Kurdish independence were significant enough for them to launch their own military operation inside Syria in August 2016, dubbed Euphrates Shield. The operation had the dual goals of targeting both ISIS and the Kurdish militia, particularly to prevent the Kurdish people from controlling a contiguous strip of territory along the Syria-Turkey border.
Turkey’s concerns aside, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Russia Today that the “only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa” was the SDF, with the support of the US and its coalition. The SDF have already advanced to within a few miles of Raqa on several fronts, and this month captured the strategic town of Tabqa and the adjacent dam from the jihadists.
If the SDF are the only fighting force currently on the ground capable of seizing Raqqa as the Pentagon insists then this might prove to be a beneficial operation. However Washington must maintain a careful balance, as Turkey is a NATO ally, home to a key airbase in the region, and the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has in the past shown he too is willing to play on both sides of the field and could decide to support the more radical Islamic elements in the region.