The arming of Syrian Kurds should continue despite the US pulling outs its troops, the American general overseeing the entire Middle East believes. Such a plan is sure to anger Turkey, which considers Kurdish militias terrorists.
For several years the Kurdish militias, which are at the forefront of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have been playing the role of the ground troops in northern Syria for Washington. With the help of US airstrikes and artillery shelling, they captured Raqqa, the former stronghold of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group and are now conducting a similar offensive on the border with Iraq.
The US has also been providing arms to the militias, angering its NATO ally Turkey, which considers Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq as an extension of the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK), a decades-old Turkey-based insurgency. Despite this, the US should continue arming the Kurds, even after Pentagon carries out the order of President Donald Trump to withdraw troops from northern Syria, believes four-star Army General Joseph Votel.
“As long as they are fighting against ISIS and continue to keep pressure on them, I think it would seem to me to be in our interest to continue to provide the means for them to do that,” Votel told Reuters.
He added that even after IS controls no more land in Syria, the arms should continue flowing to the Kurds albeit at a smaller pace. “When they go to a kind of a wider area security mode, then that will drive a different type of requirement [for support],” he said during a trip to Oman.
Votel heads the US Central Command, which oversees US military action from Northern Africa to Central Asia to Western Africa. He shares the reported predominant negative attitude of the US top brass over Trump’s decision to leave Syria, but unlike former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, he stopped short of resigning after it was announced.
Turkey vocally opposed the US support of Kurds, particularly the deliveries of hardware, arguing that the ‘terrorists’, as the Kurdish militias are called by Ankara, would not hesitate to use it against the Turks. Last year the Turkish government threatened to launch a full-scale military operation after reports that the US was planning to launch a training program and create a Kurdish “border security force” in Syria.
The promised Turkish operation failed to materialize, while the US pullout has stalled. Almost two months after its announcement, any major decrease in the US troops’ presence is yet to be seen, with the latest statements naming April as the time it would happen. Turkey seems skeptical that Washington will move out, with President Recep Erdogan this week pointing to disagreement in the Trump administration as the likely reason.
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