WASHINGTON • The United States has begun providing small arms to Kurdish fighters in northern Syria who are battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Pentagon said, fulfilling a pledge that has infuriated Turkey.
The weapons transfers began on Tuesday ahead of an upcoming offensive to recapture Raqa, the last major bastion for ISIS in Syria.
"We have begun to transfer small arms and vehicles to the Kurdish elements" of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Pentagon spokesman Adrian Rankine-Galloway said, referring to a Kurdish- Syrian Arab alliance fighting ISIS.
The weapons include AK-47s and small-calibre machine guns, Major Rankine-Galloway added.
President Donald Trump this month approved arming the fighters from the Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG), drawing strong condemnation from Turkey. Ankara says the YPG is linked to Kurdistan Workers' Party separatists, who have waged an insurgency since 1984, killing more than 40,000 people inside Turkey.
Turkey's concerns about the YPG were significant enough for Ankara to launch its own military operation inside Syria in August 2016, dubbed Euphrates Shield.
The operation had the dual goals of targeting ISIS and the Kurdish militia, particularly to prevent the YPG from controlling a contiguous strip of territory along the Syria-Turkey border. While the Kurds have failed to link up the two "cantons" under their control in the north-east with the Afrin region to the west, the Turkish operation has largely floundered.
The SDF has now advanced to within a few kilometres of Raqa on several fronts, and this month captured the strategic town of Tabqa and the adjacent dam from the militant group.
Meanwhile, Russia has attacked ISIS targets in Syria with cruise missiles fired from a warship and submarine, the Defence Ministry in Moscow said in a statement yesterday. The Admiral Essen frigate and the Krasnodar submarine, operating in the Mediterranean Sea, hit sites around the Syrian city of Palmyra with four Kalibr missiles. The US, Turkey and Israel were notified in advance of the strikes, it said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG