US forces have been deployed in northern Syria to support the Syrian Democratic Forces. Photo: Delil Souleiman | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — US President Donald Trump signed off on a plan to arm the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) ahead of the expected Raqqa operation supported by the international anti-ISIS coalition.
“Yesterday [Monday], the president authorized the Department of Defense to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa, Syria,” Dana White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, announced in a statement on Tuesday.
The US-led international anti-ISIS coalition has supported the SDF which is comprised of Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC) fighters.
“The SDF, partnered with enabling support from U.S. and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future,“ read the statement.
Turkey has objected to the YPG’s participation in the Raqqa operation, and floated the idea of it backing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to retake ISIS’s so-called capital.
“We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey,” White added. “We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the US is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Trump in Washington on May 16.
The Coalition has repeatedly said it only provides its weapons to the SAC.
“We’ve provided small weapons [to the SAC], and this has been a very effective strategy in fighting ISIS. This force has liberated more than 8,000 square-kilometers in the countryside that surrounds Raqqa," said Coalition spokesman US Col. John Dorrian on May 1.
The Coaliton announced 11 total strikes against ISIS near Raqqa or Tabqa on Monday. Securing Tabqa would allow SDF forces to turn their attention to Raqqa, which has been held by ISIS since 2013.
"The fight for Raqqa will be long and difficult, but will ultimately be yet another defeat for ISIS, and another step toward eliminating the ISIS threat to peace and security in the region and the world," the Pentagon statement added.
During a White House press briefing on Tuesday, spokesperson Sean Spicer said that after the retaking of Raqqa, the city would be turned over to “local Arabs.”