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30 May, 2017 20:20

US begins arming Kurdish militia fighting ISIS near Raqqa

The US is now equipping Kurdish fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces with heavy machine guns, small arms and ammunition to battle Islamic State fighters near their stronghold of Raqqa, Syria.

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told RT that this move represents the "early steps to prepare for the eventual liberation of Raqqa," which the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) 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.

US-ally Turkey has long opposed the arming Kurdish forces, which it considers to be outgrowths of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a designated terrorist group in both Turkey and the US.

Amid reports of US delivering arms to the Kurdish-controlled northern Syrian city of Hasakah in recent weeks, Turkish President Recep Erdogan called the US decision “a mistake” and urged US authorities to “reverse it immediately.”

READ MORE: Turkey wants US envoy removed in growing spat over Syrian Kurds

Pentagon spokesman Pahon 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," he said. "Any alleged misuse or diversion of U.S. support will be taken seriously and lead to the possible curtailment of support, if verified."

READ MORE: Arms for Kurds, sheltering of Gulen among gripes Erdogan bringing to talks with Trump

Pahon also said the "only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa" was the SDF, under the support of the US and its coalition.

Former Pentagon official Michael Maloof warned of a “big collision” between Washington and Ankara over the US move to arm the Kurdish-dominant SDF.

“Turkey still regards the Kurds as a greater threat to Turkey than ISIS itself,” Maloof told RT.

Turkey fears that the weapons will be sent to the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers' Party, a designated terrorist group in Turkey. As for the US claims that it will monitor and take the weapons back, Maloof said, “We've seen this movie before.”

US military basing rights at Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base may be jeopardized, Maloof explained, adding that the US-Turkey relationship is already constrained, partly due to the US granting permanent residence to Fethullah Gülen, who is wanted in Turkey in relation to a coup attempt last year.

Even if the plan succeeds in ridding Raqqa of IS, Maloof warns that IS will simply return to its “insurgency role” as was manifested in Iraq and could spread to Syria.