Pentagon weighs arming Syrian Kurds ahead of Raqqa fight

Fighters of the Manbij military council, allied to Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), take an over watch position in the southern rural area of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria June 1, 2016. (Reuters)

Washington is considering arming Syrian Kurdish forces who will join the offensive to retake the ISIS group’s stronghold of Raqa, the US military’s top officer said Thursday.

“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.

The SDF numbers about 30,000 fighters and is made up largely of Kurds, though Syrian Arabs also form a significant component.

While the Pentagon has already provided military equipment to the SDF, it insists these shipments have only gone to the Arab part.

The United States is helping train and advise the SDF, as they are expected to conduct the eventual push to retake Raqqa, the de-facto capital of ISIS’s self-declared “caliphate.”

“They are our most effective partner on the ground. It’s very difficult as you know, managing a relationship between our support for the Syrian Democratic Forces and our Turkish allies,” Dunford said.

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.

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.

Last Update: 19:49 KSA 22:49 - GMT 19:49