U.S. arm­ing Syr­ian Kurds ahead of Raqqa as­sault

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - LOLITA C. BALDOR

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.

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