US-led Coalition says armoured vehicles only provided to Syrian Arab Coalition, not Kurds

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The US-led coalition’s spokesperson Colonel John Dorrian said that they have delivered armored vehicles to the SDF-linked Syrian Arab Coalition, and not to the Kurds in order not to anger Turkey.

The Kurds, who are in fight with ISIS as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have also made clear that they have not received heavy weapons from the US-led coalition.

“Most recently, the coalition provided several Guardian armored vehicles to provide the Syrian-Arab Coalition with increased survivability from ISIS’s small arms and improvised explosive device threats,” the coalition spokesperson said.

“The Syrian Arab Coalition was the organization that received these. Again the Syrian Arab Coalition is a part of the Syrian Democratic Forces. So it’s a group that includes the Syrian Arab Coalition,” he said.

Also, Redur Xelil, spokesperson of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), denied in a statement on Wednesday that the YPG has received weapons or armoured vehicles from the US-led coalition.

This while SDF officials confirmed they have received weapons.

Turkish government’s media was immediately angered by the delivery of the vehicles, worried that they could go to the Kurds.

“The US must support the SDF in the same way they have supported the Iraqi army and Peshmerga. US mustn’t bow down to pressure from Turkey,” said Adel Murad, a member of the Iraqi Kurdish ‘Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’.

However, the coalition spokesperson said they don’t have the authorities to provide heavy arms to the Syrian Democratic Forces. “We don’t have authorities in place to do that, so our authorities are for giving them to the Syrian Arab Coalition and that’s what we did,” Colonel Dorrian said.

Although some local media reported that the vehicles were delivered by the new Trump administration, coalition officials say that the delivery of these vehicles was decided by the previous Obama administration.

“The transport and the divestiture of these vehicles have been in the works for months,” he said. “So this is something that’s been in the works for months. It’s been authorized using existing authorities from the previous administration.”

“And the timing is that, you know, the Syrian Arab Coalition is getting ready to continue their operations to isolate Raqqa. And as they approach the city and get into tough fighting [against ISIS], this capability is going to increase their survivability, their ability to withstand small-arms fire as well,” he concluded.

In the meantime, the Kurdish-led SDF forces –which include the Syrian Arab Coalition– continue to advance and strengthen defensive positions four to five kilometers west of Tabqa Dam in the countryside of Raqqa.

“As local Arab tribes join the SDF ranks, the [US-led] coalition will continue to bolster these fighters’ abilities with training, weapons and equipment as we have already done for more than 3,000 members of the SAC,” the coalition spokesperson said.

“The resources that we’re providing to the Syrian Arab Coalition have helped them be successful in fighting Daesh [ISIS]. And that benefits not just the SDF, but that benefits all of our nations because this is a brutal enemy,” Colonel Dorrian said.

“And what they’ve been doing is trying to isolate Raqqa so that the enemy is unable to do external operations beyond Syria. So, it provides the same kind of benefits to all of us,” he concluded.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News 

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In response to Turkey: US says they only arm SDF Arabs, not Kurds

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Senior Turkish officials have accused the US-led coalition of arming the Syrian Kurds, but Pentagon officials insist they only arm Arab elements within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

According to reports, Washington has already been arming elements within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The USA Today reported that the US Air Force is expediting its airdrops to help the SDF effort in the battle for Raqqa against ISIS, but only to the Syrian Arab Coalition [an SDF faction], to avoid upsetting Turkey.

“Our local partners in Syria continue to converge down on Raqqa and I’m also confident that they will soon have ISIS’s so-called capital isolated,” outgoing US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said on Thursday about the US support for the SDF forces.

“The isolation of Raqqa continued…our partners cleared more than 3,000 square kilometers since the start of their operations. ISIS’s days there, as well as in Iraq, are numbered,” Carter added.

Furthermore, Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook denied that they arm the Kurds in Syria. “We have been supplying the SDF, specifically the Syrian Arab Coalition, for some time, with materiel support. We continue to do that, and there’s been no change,” he said.

 “We continue to provide that support for the Syrian Arab Coalition,” he stressed.

Cook further said that they are working closely with Turkey to fight ISIS in Syria’s northern city of al-Bab, despite a Turkish criticism that they are not receiving enough support from the US-led coalition.

In the meantime, the Pentagon urged the new Trump administration to directly arm the Syrian Kurds, since they are one of the most effective forces against ISIS. But it’s unclear whether Trump will listen to the Pentagon, or to Turkey that is lobbying against any form of support for the Kurds in Syria.

The pro-Turkish government columnist Ilnur Cevik on Thursday argued that the US was not helping the Turks in al-Bab, since this would anger and could harm relations with the Syrian Kurds.

“On the eve of Trump taking office, the Americans made a token gesture and announced they had attacked Daesh [ISIS] in al-Bab with their Air Force,” he wrote. “Yet this was a ‘token gesture’ as only four American drones were involved in the attack. Just as this was happening the U.S. launched 22 fighter attacks against Daesh in Raqqa to help out the Syrian Kurds. Some are still on on a completely wrong course,” Cevik concluded.

However, the US-led coalition said that it launched three airstrikes on ISIS positions near al-Bab on Wednesday, hitting an ISIS tactical unit and destroying two tactical vehicles and a supply cache.

“Our Turkish ally and forces that they are working with closely continue to wage an operation there — mount an operation against ISIS. There continues to be close coordination with the coalition,” Pentagon spokesperson Cook said. “I can’t get into every specific aspect of that coordination and I certainly won’t speak for other countries, but this is part of the larger effort to deal ISIS a lasting defeat.” 

“We want that to happen in al-Bab. We want that to happen in Raqqa. We want that to happen in Mosul. We want that to happen in Libya. And it represents that wider effort.  This has to be an effort that is applied on multiple fronts. We cannot allow ISIS to have safe haven anywhere,” he concluded.

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US Assistant Secretary of Defense tells Turkey: only ISIS a target, not Kurds

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Acting US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Elissa Slotkin, said the only target for the US-led coalition is ISIS, and not the city of Manbij that has been cleared from ISIS by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Turkish officials have warned they would attack the SDF forces in Manbij after they capture Syria’s northern city of al-Bab from ISIS.

“We are all about hitting ISIS where there is ISIS. If there’s no ISIS, that’s not our mandate,” Slotkin told reporters in Washington on Saturday. “So that is an important distinction. We have always made it in any kind of conversation we’ve been having with any ally on Syria,” she said.

The American official also denied that the US told Turkey that they will not provide support to the Turks in al-Bab, if the Turkey-backed rebels and Turkish soldiers attack Manbij.

“But I am not aware of any conditionality, any kind of quid-pro-quo,” she said. “We are having those conversations and there is support that’s being provided. Currently, liaison teams are working with the Turks every day.”

Turkey recently increased the number of its troops  in Syria from 3,000 to 8,000 soldiers, after 14 Turkish soldiers were killed by ISIS near al-Bab.

“So obviously they’re having conversations about al-Bab, about strategy and approach. We have provided some ISR support on al-Bab. We have, in areas north of there, provided ground forces and the whole suite of air support,” Slotkin said. “So those are the kinds of things that we’re talking about sort of on an hourly basis with the Turks.”

The US official said there are now 50,000 SDF forces that fight ISIS in northern Syria. “That’s a big number and that is not the number it was a year ago. And the theory of the case that as you liberate new areas for ISIS, people did not like living under ISIS and they volunteer,” she said.

“So we have seen that borne out, and even since the Manbij operations, frankly, we’ve seen a significantly larger number of Arabs come into the fight [side by side with the Kurds]. So I think it’s about 50 percent at this point is sort of Arab-Turkoman, the whole host of other folks besides the Kurds, and I think that’s a pretty healthy number given the importance of the coming fight in Raqqa, which is an Arab town,” she stated.

The Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs further said that the United States would support agreements between Russia and Turkey on Syria. “I think that’s a positive thing. Anything that helps promote transparency and safety is better than not.”

Meanwhile, Nicholas Heras, a Washington-based Middle East researcher at the Centre for a New American Security, told ARA News that the SDF-held city of Manbij is strategic for the aspirations of the Turkey-backed rebels. “Manbij is the key staging point for a future campaign against Raqqa for [Turkey-backed] Euphrates Shield rebels. If the Turks gain control over Manbij via their Syrian proxies, it would mean that Turkey, not the SDF, would be in a position to assault Raqqa.”

“The Turkish military wants the United States to send special forces and advisers to embed with its proxy Syrian groups. The U.S. wants to see whether the Turkish military can execute the operation on Al-Bab as the primary military actor,” he said.

“The Turks are having grave difficulties because Turkish airpower and advisers do not have the same high level of coordination with their Syrian proxies as the U.S. military has with the [Kurdish-led] SDF,” Heras told ARA News.

As a result, Turkey wants additional support from the United States.

“The Turks believe that the U.S. military is their silver bullet to vanquish ISIS in al-Bab, which is the key to solidifying a future safe zone in northern Syria that is controlled by Turkey. There are high stakes for the Turks in al-Bab,” he concluded.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News 

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US coalition spokesman: Arabs are leading Manbij campaign, not Kurds

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KOBANE – Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Chris Garver on Friday stated that the Manbij campaign is led by Arabs and not Kurds.

“The [Kurdish] YPG is supporting the operation, but 2,000+ Syrian Arab fighters are leading the assault,” Colonel Chris Garver said.

He wrote on Twitter that stories suggesting that the SDF operation in Manbij is led by Kurds are inaccurate.

The SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] consist of Kurds, Arabs, Christians and Turkmen. Backed by the US-led coalition, the SDF has regained large territory from ISIS northern Syria.  

Nevertheless, Colonel Garver said he did not want to marginalize the Kurdish contribution to the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).

Speaking at a press conference in Kenya, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the U.S. assured Turkey that mostly Arab forces will conduct the operation in Manbij instead of the YPG. 

He said the Americans told Turkey, that 400 Kurds, and 2,500 Arabs are involved in the offensive.

In an exclusive interview with ARA News, Sheikh Farouk al Mashi, the co-head of the Manbij city council, also denied that the SDF forces fighting ISIS in Manbij are only Kurds, emphasising that over 2,000 Arabs are involved in the operation.

“I repeat again the SDF forces are not just a Kurdish militia, they are from all sects, nations, and we have Arabs, Kurds and also Turkmen. We formed together the SDF forces, and regarding the Manbij military council, it contains four FSA factions that lead the operation,” Mashi said.

“We are the Free Syrian Army and we fought ISIS in Manbij, in Kobane, and we contributed in liberating Kobane,” he said, rejecting accusations by the Syrian Coalition. “We are the original FSA and we have many sacrifices and martyrs in al Bab, Manbij, Ghouta, Damascus, in all cities. The Manbij people contributed to liberating many areas in Syria,” he told ARA News.

The co-head of Manbij city council also denied allegations by the Syrian activist group “Raqqah Is Being Slaughtered Silently” that Arabs are joining ISIS to protect Raqqa against Kurds. 

“This is very dishonest,” he said. “After terrorism, beheading, cutting the hand and areas, and torturing and killing Arabs, it would be impossible for people to join ISIS and back it. Now we are communicating with the people in Raqqa, Manbij and Jarabulus, and people are defecting from ISIS and joining the SDF. Without any doubt, all the Arabs will join the SDF,” he said.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg 

Source: ARA News 

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