Days ahead of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the White House, the Pentagon announced yesterday that it will arm the Kurds in the offensive to take ISIS’ capital Raqqa. As the New York Times reported:
President Trump has approved a plan to provide Syrian Kurds with heavier weapons so they can participate in the battle to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State, the Pentagon said on Tuesday. [….]
While the Kurds are combat-hardened fighters, American officials have said that they will need antitank missiles, heavy machine guns, mortars and armored vehicles to take on Islamic State fighters in Raqqa, who are well equipped and have fortified their positions.
It is not clear how the Trump administration plans to avoid a backlash from Turkey. But American military officials have previously suggested that the United States might provide the Kurdish fighters with just enough weapons to take Raqqa while restricting the supply of arms and ammunition they would receive after that operation ends.
The move will likely be infuriating for Erdogan, who had sent a parade of senior officials to Washington ahead of his visit to try to convince the administration to back a Turkish push on Raqqa. As we wrote last week, Syria’s Kurds were always going to be the major sticking point in any meeting between Trump and Erdogan. Now even more so after this frankly embarrassing failure of Turkish diplomacy.
While this will ruffle Turkey’s feathers, it’s the logical move to take on ISIS. In fact, it looks a lot like the plan the outgoing administration proposed to Trump several months ago, after reaching the same conclusions about America’s options in Syria. Backing Turkey’s plan to take Raqqa would have involved dumping the Kurds in favor of Turkey’s woefully less competent “Free Syrian Army” rebels. While some Trump administration officials reportedly favored a massive U.S. troop deployment in Syria, Trump apparently balked at the idea. That left the Kurds.
If the progress in Mosul is any indication, it will be some time before ISIS is extirpated from Raqqa. In the meantime, managing the fallout with Turkey will be the cost of keeping the Kurds marching in the right direction.