SANAA, Syria –-- During a trip last week to Iraq and Syria with Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel, he and his subordinate commanders argued that arming Syrian Kurdish forces is vital to routing the Islamic State group from its self-declared capital of Raqqa. Votel and his traveling party, including myself, flew on V-22 Ospreys to a dirt airfield in Syria that U.S. military engineers have made ready for the gathering assault on Raqqa.
To take Raqqa, officials say, the Kurds need anti-tank weapons to defeat Islamic State group vehicle bombs, armored vehicles and more heavy arms such as machine guns. Additional U.S. support will be needed, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket System artillery, logistics support, more U.S. advisory teams and other enablers.
While arming the Syrian Kurds might be the easiest way to maintain momentum in the campaign against the Islamic State group, this option courts two significant risks. Turkey may attack Syrians and the U.S. forces working with them, or stop flights and related counter-Islamic State group activity on Turkish bases, severely complicating the campaign against the group.
Turkey strongly opposes the U.S. bid to arm the Syrian Kurds, which have been closely allied with the armed Kurdish movement fighting Turkey's government. The second risk is that Syrian Arabs will reject use of the Kurdish-dominated force to liberate their areas.
The U.S. has been working hard to mitigate the second risk by boosting the number of Arab fighters in the Kurdish-led coalition called the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. We made a second stop here in Sanaa, a village near Manbij, where U.S. Special Forces and SDF fighters were training new Arab recruits. U.S. military officials claim that Arab Syrian fighters in the SDF coalition now number 23,000, versus 27,000 Kurds. (end of excerpt)
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