The U.S. military has confirmed for the first time that it has provided a small number of armored vehicles to Syrian fighters hoping to oust Islamic State militants from their self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa.
Pentagon officials on February 1 confirmed earlier reports from rebel groups that they had received the new Guardian armored vehicles.
The Pentagon said they will give the U.S.-backed Syrian Arab Coalition better protection from small-arms fire and roadside bombs as coalition fighters close in on the city.
Syrian rebels have been moving toward Raqqa in a broader campaign to isolate and retake the city from IS.
The coalition is part of the largely Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, which the United States considers to be the most effective force battling against IS in Syria.
The step-up in U.S. support for the Syrian rebel groups is likely to increase tensions with Turkey, which views the Syrian Kurdish militias as "terrorists" because they are allied with Kurdish groups fighting for separatism in Turkey.