US President Donald Trump’s May 8 decision to directly arm the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) against the Islamic State did not surprise anyone.
If anything, the United States stated what it had been doing for some time.
The United States said on Tuesday that its transfers of weapons to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) have officially begun, much to the consternation of NATO ally Turkey.
Since the United States began conducting airstrikes against IS in August 2014 and the US Congress passed legislation to train and equip Syrian Kurds in December 2014, the YPG and YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have fought against IS with great success.
Thanks to US support, the SDF has reversed the territorial gains of the extremist Sunni group and, since spring 2016, has been marching toward IS’ capital, Raqqa.
Indeed, as Al-Monitor’s Fehim Tastekin noted in May 2016, the US partnership with Syrian Kurds to liberate Raqqa from IS has been going on for quite some time. But this situation has long angered America’s erstwhile ally, Turkey.
Ankara possesses the second-largest military in NATO and considers the YPG an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which both Ankara and Washington consider a terrorist organization.
The Pentagon’s spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said that the Kurdish fighter have been the recipients of US-provided small arms and military vehicles ready for the push to take the Raqqa from Daesh who have used at as their de-facto capital in the war-torn country.
The significance of the Kurds as a US ally increased when former President Obama declared that the war against Daesh would be “by, with, through” local soldiers.
Then, at the tail end of February 2017, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in reference to the US support for the Kurds that, “the only thing we expect from our US ally is to support Turkey with no ifs or buts.”
The Obama administration initiated its program of arming the Kurds in its second term.
Upon the election of the seemingly isolationist President Trump, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was hopeful that the US might cease the policy of arming the Syrian Kurds. However, Trump announced just after the new years that he intended to continue, much to the frustration of Ankara.
Pentagon officials have — in what seems like an attempts to assuage the anxiety of Ankara — said that they will look into boosting intelligence cooperation with Turkey in the fight against Daesh as well as on PKK activity.
Turkey is yet to reciprocate, indicating that intelligence sharing isn’t enough to satisfy the fears that Ankara harbors over the emboldenment of the Syrian Kurdish groups.
Back in the summer of 2016, Ankara’s concern over the YPG reached its apex when Turkey launched its own military operation in Syria, called ‘Euphrates Shield.’
Allegedly the mission had the objective of targeting Daesh, but also the Kurdish groups, namely the YPG, in order to block them from controlling enclaves of land across the Syria-Turkey border which could create logistics corridors for the transfer of weapons to the PKK in Turkey.