In first, US confirms giving armored SUVs to anti-ISIL Syrian Kurdish-Arab forces
HASAKEH, SyriaThe United States has provided an alliance of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) with armored vehicles for the first time, a U.S. official and a spokesman for the anti-jihadist force stated on Jan. 31.
U.S. military spokesman Colonel John Dorrian said armored Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) had been provided to the “Syrian Arab Coalition,” a grouping of Arab factions within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The SDF, which is comprised of Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters along with the Syrian Arab Coalition, has long been a key partner of the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIL in Syria, and Washington has previously supplied the coalition with light weaponry and has sent U.S. and other Western special forces as “advisers.”
The U.S.-led coalition has also backed the force with heavy air strikes targeting ISIL fighters.
U.S.’s support to the SDF has caused tension between Washington and its NATO ally Turkey, which considers the main component of the SDF, the YPG, which is the military wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), to be terrorist organizations due to its links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), with which the Turkish army has been in armed conflict since the mid-1980s.
Dorrian told AFP the decision was made “using existing authorities, in the interest of helping protect our partnered force from the [ISIL] improvised-explosive device threat.”
“The decision was made by military commanders, and has been in the works for some time,” he added.
Dorrian’s remarks came hours after SDF spokesperson Talal Sello said on Jan. 31 that they had received U.S. armored vehicles for the first time and a promise of new American support.
The delivery appears to be the first under U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, though the original decision pre-dates his Jan. 20 inauguration, and comes after he gave the U.S. military 30 days to deliver a plan to “defeat” ISIL.
‘Decision pre-dates Trump’s inauguration’
Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said the decision to supply the vehicles pre-dated the Trump administration, but on the ground it was being interpreted as a sign of new support, according to AFP.
“Before we used to receive light weapons, ammunition ... with these armored vehicles we’ve entered a new phase in the [U.S.] support. It’s a sign,” Sello said on Jan. 31.
“We have had meetings with representatives of the new administration, and they promised us extra support,” he added.
Washington insists it only delivers military aid to the Arab component of the SDF, but the assistance has angered Ankara nonetheless.
Pahon said the decision to supply the vehicles “was a ground-level tactical decision ... based on the threats the SDF might be facing.”
“We are providing them with the tools to face whatever the current threat is,” he added.
The SDF has been battling since Nov. 5, 2016 to oust ISIL jihadists from Raqqa city, the group’s de facto capital in Syria.
They are 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the city, but have come under frequent attack by ISIL suicide car bombers, a favored tactic of the jihadist group.
A Pentagon spokesman said the vehicles were supplied to the Syrian Arab Coalition and would help it contend with the threat posed by improvised explosive devices used by ISIL as they advance towards Raqqa.
“The Department of Defense only provides training and materiel support to the Syrian Arab Coalition,” Major Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway said in a statement, according to Reuters.