Trump administration reworking Obama plan to arm Syrian Kurds

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters hold up their weapons in the north of Raqqa city, 3 February 2017, ((c) Rodi Said/Reuters)

The Washington Post reported recently that Donald Trump’s national security team had abandoned the Obama administration’s plan to cooperate with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria.

However, it has come to light that the reason behind this is not due to the Trump administration’s negative position on the YPG. Senior Trump officials assigned to develop a new plan also support cooperation with the YPG in the fight against pushing the Islamic State group from Raqqa.

The plan foresees the Pentagon providing the YPG with training, materials such as armoured vehicles, anti-tank weapons, and full cooperation as part of the ongoing campaign against Islamic State.

According to reports Trump’s National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, did not want the plan to be approved by the Obama administration so that it could be launched by the new administration. The new administration however, ‘swiftly tossed’ the plan. Senior members of Trump’s team were of the opinion that the plan was one ‘with huge gaps, wholly insufficient, avoiding risks and failing’, and deemed as poor staff work.

Information on how many U.S. troops would be required, where the YPG would be trained are stated as being some of the missing details of the ‘inadequate’ plan. Another reason for the postponement of the plan was that there was no Plan B to be implemented if the YPG during the campaign could not progress at the expected speed.

Officials from the Trump administration also said they were dismayed that there was no provision for coordinating operations with Russia and no clear political strategy for calming down Ankara, who views the YPG as the Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Trump gave the Pentagon a month to diversify or rewrite the Obama plan. In the process, two names have been given full authority: US Defence Secretary James Mattis and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, Joseph Dunford.

According to a senior Obama administration official, “Dunford emerged as one of the most passionate supporters of arming the Kurds” at the end of Obama’s term.

At the end of 2016, Dunford informed the Obama administration that Ankara would be inadequate in producing the forces to capture Raqqa and that the best option for the Raqqa campaign was to co-operate with the Syrian Kurds, as former Defence Secretary Ashton Carter suggested. Dunford and Carter officially requested the delivery of armored vehicles, anti-tank weapons, machine guns and mine clearance vehicles.

Whilst testifying in the Senate before becoming Pentagon’s top civilian official, Mattis had called for a new look at the strategy involving the Kurds in taking Raqqa. “We’ve got to have an integrated strategy,” he said, not only inside the US government but also with allies and forces such as the Syrian Kurds.”

The armoured vehicle delivery that the Washington Post said was postponed, stating that former president Obama did not formally sign the decision, has happened now. On 31 January, the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, announced that a certain number of US armoured vehicles were delivered to them.

The Pentagon spokesman John Dorrian did not deny the SDF announcement. But contrary to the Washington Post, he said Obama had signed the decision a few days before leaving his post, saying that these materials would be used by the SDF forces in the Raqqa operation.

The SDF launched the 3rd phase of the Wrath of Euphrates operation on Saturday to encircle the city and sever the main highway held by IS towards Deir al-Zor and the Iraq border.

(Reporting and writing by Aylina Kilic/Kom News)