White House Approves More Weapons for Syrian Kurdish Militia YPG on Eve of Attack on Raqqa
The White House has approved a plan to directly arm the People's Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish militia fighting against ISIS in Syria and the primary component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and in so doing allow YPG to play a greater role in the upcoming battle to re-take Raqqa, the de facto capital of the ISIL caliphate.
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The order allows the U.S. to begin arming the YPG with more and better weapons. Sources said YPG is set to receive advanced combat helmets; digital camouflage uniforms; chest rigs that hold ammunition and body armor.
YPG will also get M4 automatic rifles with various modifications, including infrared lasers used for targeting during nighttime raids. These weapons and gear make YPG more lethal.
YPG will also receive other needed equipment such as radios and bulldozers, which have proven their usefulness against ISIS car and truck bombs.
There are some 40,000 YPG fighters in northern Syria.
The order allows the U.S. to begin providing the Syrian Kurds with arms and equipment like bulldozers, rifles and radios fairly quickly since some equipment is pre-positioned, officials said.
The decision made on May 9 will infuriate Turkey, which considers YPG a terrorist group. YPG is military arm of the Kurdish leftist Democratic Union Party.
At the urging of the United States, YPG founded the SDF in late 2015 as an umbrella group combining Arabs and minorities into the war effort against ISIS.
On the other hand, Turkey sees YPG as an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist group by both Turkey and the U.S. PKK and Turkey are again at war after the former ended a ceasefire it declared in 2013.
U.S. Department of Defense spokeswoman Dana White described SDF as "the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future."
"We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey," said White.
"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."
The assault on Raqqa by SDF and its partners supported by U.S. and coalition airpower will begin this year after the fall of Mosul to the Iraqi Army and its allies. The complete capture of Mosul is expected by June at the earliest.
The Pentagon has said repeatedly the operation to re-take Raqqa will require direct weapons shipments and upgraded equipment to the YPG and its allies in the SDF as these anti-ISIS forces fight their way forward into the last city held by ISIS in either Syria or Iraq.
YPG gained worldwide fame with its successful defense of the Syrian city of Kobani against ISIS. YPG's victory against ISIS in March 2015 is considered one of the key turning points in the war against this Islamic terrorist organization since it stopped ISIS' string of victories and forced them into a strategic defensive.