WASHINGTON – Reuters
Syrian civilians who volunteered to join local Self Protection Units to protect their neighbourhoods alongside the Syrian army receive weapons as they attend training in Damascus countryside, Syria December 5, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
The United States has delivered a fresh supply of ammunition to Syrian Arab fighters ahead of an expected stiff battle with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they push toward the Syrian town of al-Shadadi, a key logistics hub for the group, U.S. officials told Reuters.
The munitions were shipped into Syria over land in recent days to Syrian Arab forces fighting in the northeast part of the country, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the operation. It appeared to be the third delivery of ammunition to the Syrian Arabs since the United States started supplying them with an airdrop in October.
The Syrian Arabs are allied with Kurdish fighters, and the initial shipment of U.S. ammunition unnerved NATO
ally Turkey, which is sensitive to any operations that could benefit Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.
The Syrian Arabs number around 5,000 fighters. With the Kurds and others, they form the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces seeking to claw back land from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), officials say.
The U.S. officials said the fighters were preparing eventually to move toward al-Shadadi, which is located on a strategic network of highways. Capturing it would help isolate Raqqa, ISIL’s defacto capital.
U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL, said the militants used al-Shadadi to stage weapons, equipment and personnel for distribution throughout the battlefield.
Warren declined to comment on any specific U.S. resupply operations but noted past U.S. commitments to carry them out.
The Pentagon also declined to comment on any specific operations but noted U.S. President Barack Obama has said the support of Syrian forces on the ground is a key part of his strategy for combating ISIL.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they expect ISIL to put up a tough fight for al-Shadadi, largely because of its strategic importance.
One official said the group was believed to be digging long trenches and berms to prepare fighting positions.
Washington’s strategy in Syria has shifted this year from trying to train thousands of vetted fighters outside the country to supplying groups headed by U.S.-vetted commanders.