Just three weeks after reports first emerged that the Trump administration was considering arming the Syrian Kurd militia caught in the crossfire between Turkish and Syrian army forces, NBC reported that the American military has started shipping weapons and equipment to the Kurdish fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, also known as YPG, a key US ally on the ground in Syria. Citing an unnamed official, NBC adds that the U.S. began providing the equipment in the last 24 hours.
Details were scarce, with no specifics about what weapons and supplies the US is sending the Syrian Democratic Forces or how those items are being delivered however when the report first emerged, the U.S. military announced it would provide the YDF with ammunition, rifles, armor, radios, bulldozers, vehicles, and engineering equipment.
Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told RT taid that this move represents the "early steps to prepare for the eventual liberation of Raqqa," which the Islamic State has declared the capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate.
"Overall, the equipment the US-led coalition will provide to the SDF includes small arms, ammunition, heavy machine guns and weapons capable of defeating specific threats our partner forces are expected to encounter as they take the fight to a desperate enemy, such as heavily-armored vehicle-borne IEDs," Pahon said in an emailed statement.
Earlier this month US officials said that Trump had signed off on a plan “to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces” in the fight to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from ISIS.
"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,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.
The announcement is guaranteed to send Turkey's president Erdogan into another fit of rage. Earlier this month Erdogan condemned Trump’s decision to arm Syrian Kurds whom Turkey considers to be terrorists and an extension of outlawed Kurdish insurgents within its borders. Three weeks ago Erdogan said: “I hope very much that this mistake will be reversed immediately,” adding that "we want to believe that our allies would prefer [to] be side by side with ourselves rather than with the terror groups.”
President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met earlier this month and discussed the administration's plans to arm Kurdish militias in Syria. It was unclear what agreement the two leaders reached on this controverial move.
At the same time, Reuters reported that Syrian rebels say the United States and its allies "are sending them more arms to try to fend off a new push into the southeast by Iran-backed militias aiming to open an overland supply route between Iraq and Syria."
Rebels said military aid has been boosted through two separate channels: a program backed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), known as the MOC, and regional states including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and one run by the Pentagon.
"There has been an increase in the support," said Tlass Salameh, head of the Jaish Usoud al-Sharqiya, one of the FSA groups backed via the CIA-backed program. "There's no way we can let them open the Baghdad-Damascus highway," he said.
A senior commander of a Pentagon-backed group, Maghawir al-Thawra, told Reuters a steady flow of weapons had arrived at their base near the Iraqi border since the pro-Damascus forces began deploying this month.
He said efforts to recruit and train local fighters from Deir al-Zor had accelerated at their garrison at Tanf, on the highway some 20 km (12 miles) from the Iraqi border.
"The equipment and reinforcements come and go daily ... but in the last few weeks they have brought in more heavy military vehicles, TOW (missiles), and armored vehicles," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Two armored vehicles newly delivered to the Tanf garrison were shown in photos sent to Reuters from a rebel source. A video showed fighters unpacking mortar bombs.
As with similar weapon deliveries under the Obama regime, it remains unclear how the US is differentiating so-called between "moderate" rebels, and ISIS and al-Qaeda groups, who on numerous occasions in the past received US arms shipments which subsequently were used against US forces.
Seeking to put such concerns aside, Pentagon spokesman Phelan told RT there were safeguards in place to prevent misuse of the weapons. "Wherever possible, our advisors will monitor the use of the weapons and supplies we give the Kurdish elements of the SDF, ensuring use only against ISIS," Pahon told RT. "Any alleged misuse or diversion of U.S. support will be taken seriously and lead to the possible curtailment of support, if verified."
Ah yes, the unthinkable "possible curtailment" punishment.
Finally, recall that perhaps in anticipation of this round of escalation, Russia announced that its expects China to help resolve the Syrian crisis once and for all, and "Restore the country."