U.S. arming Syrian Kurds ahead of Raqqa assault
WASHINGTON — The United States started Tuesday to deliver weapons to Kurdish fighters closing in on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, the Pentagon said.
Spokesperson Eric Pahon said Tuesday’s weapons delivery to the Syrian Kurds included small arms and ammunition. It marks the beginning of a campaign to better equip Kurdish allies that the U.S.-led coalition believes are the best fighting force against the Islamic State, even though arming them has infuriated NATO ally Turkey.
Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters to be terrorists. The U.S. has promised to mete out the equipment incrementally, based on the mission, to insure weapons aren’t used by Kurdish groups in Turkey.
On Tuesday, Kurdish-led fighters in Syria closed within about three kilometres of Raqqa, where they expect to face a long and deadly battle. Roadside bombs and other explosive devices are believed to be planted along their routes and inside the city.
U.S. officials have said the weapons deliveries will include heavy machine-guns, ammunition, 120 mm mortars, armoured vehicles and possibly TOW anti-tank missiles.
Separately Tuesday, the Pentagon ratcheted up threats against pro-Syrian government forces patrolling an area near the Jordanian border where the U.S.-led coalition is training allied rebels. Officials described the pro-government forces as Iranianbacked.
The U.S. dropped leaflets warning the forces to leave the area and American military officials said the same message was conveyed in recent calls with Russian commanders.
Less than two weeks ago, the U.S. bombed Iranian-backed troops who were in that same area of Syria and didn’t heed similar warnings to leave.