WASHINGTON, May 11 (NNN-AGENCIES) -- Despite fierce opposition from NATO ally Turkey, U.S. President Donald Trump has approved supplying arms to Kurdish YPG fighters to support an operation to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from Daesh, U.S. officials said.
Ankara views the Kurdish YPG militia, fighting within a larger U.S.-backed coalition, as the Syrian extension of the Kurdish PKK militant group, which has fought an insurgency in southeastern Turkey since 1984.
There was no immediate reaction from Turkey, whose president, Tayyip Erdogan, is expected to meet Trump in Washington next week.
The Pentagon immediately sought to stress that it saw arming the Kurdish forces "as necessary to ensure a clear victory" in Raqqa, Daesh's de facto capital in Syria and a hub for planning the group's attacks against the West.
"We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement as she traveled in Lithuania with defense secretary Jim Mattis.
"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," White said.
The United States has long directly supplied arms to the Arab components of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces, which include YPG fighters. White said Washington would still prioritize supplying those Arab fighters within the SDF.
The United States has played down Turkish accusations of links between the YPG and PKK.
One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the equipment for the Kurdish fighters could include small arms, ammunition, machine guns, armored vehicles and engineering equipment.
Equipment provided to the SDF would be limited, specific to a mission and provided "incrementally as objectives are reached" White said.
The U.S. alliance with Turkey has proven decisive in the battle against Daesh in Syria, providing the coalition with access to Turkey's Incirlik air base to wage strikes against the militants, officials say.
Mattis, speaking before the announcement to reporters in Denmark and after talks with coalition members, sounded upbeat about working through tensions with Ankara.
"Our intent is to work with the Turks, alongside one another, to take Raqqa down, and we're going to sort it out and we'll figure out how we're going to do it," Mattis said.
Mattis called Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik on Tuesday May 9, the Pentagon said. It was unclear how Isik responded but the Pentagon said that both "affirmed their support for peace and stability in both Iraq and Syria."
Saleh Muslim, co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, the YPG's political affiliate, said the U.S. decision was expected.
In a sign of recent tensions, Turkish warplanes carried out air strikes against Kurdish YPG fighters in northeastern Syria and Iraq's Sinjar region late last month, killing less than 30 fighters, according to one estimate. -- NNN-AGENCIES
Source: NAM News Network