According to a top official in the U.S. military, Washington is considering arming the Syrian Kurdish forces who are expected to join the offensive on Raqqa, the capital of ISIS in Syria.
Though the United States has already helped arm Kurdish fighters in Iraq, a similar move in Syria is more complex as Turkey labels the Kurdish group as terrorists and allies of PKK separatists fighting within Turkish borders.
“We’re in deliberation about exactly what to do with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) right now,” General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We’re working very closely with our Turkish allies to come up with the right approach … and still allay the Turkish concerns about the Kurds’ long-term political prospects”, Dunford added.
When asked by a lawmaker if arming the Syrian Kurds would make the SDF more effective, Dunford said: “I would agree.”
“If we would reinforce the Syrian Democratic Forces’ current capabilities, that will increase the prospects of our success in Raqqa,” he said.
The SDF numbers about 30,000 fighters and is made up largely of Kurds (YPG), though Syrian Arabs also form a significant component. It is considered the only capable force currently to retake Raqqa from ISIS.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said no “specific decision” had been taken on the issue. He did not directly respond when asked if he would support arming the Syrian Kurds.
“I support whatever is required to help them move in the direction of Raqqa,” Carter said.
Raqqa fell to the Free Syrian Army in 2013, and shortly after to ISIS in 2014.