The United States has agreed to supply weapons to the main Kurdish opposition group in Syria, a move likely to anger Turkey just days before a meeting between the U.S. and Turkish leaders in Washington.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White announced the move in a May 9 statement, saying President Donald Trump a day earlier had authorized the Defense Department "to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa, Syria."
The statement came shortly after news agencies cited an unidentified senior U.S. official as saying that the White House had approved arming the People's Protection Units (YPG) as the battle to dislodge Islamic State (IS) militants from its stronghold in Raqqa nears.
Raqqa, in northern Syria, is the de facto capital of the IS group but is being surrounded by opposition forces fighting IS militants government forces.
An unidentified U.S. official was quoted by AFP as saying prior to the Pentagon statement on May 9 that the approval has immediate effect "but the timeline for weapons delivery is to be refined."
Washington considers the YPG to have been critical in defeating IS fighters in northern Syria. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurds to be a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting a decades-long insurgency against Turkish forces for greater autonomy.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House in mid-May.
White said in her statement that Washington was "keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey."
"We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally," she added.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on May 9 that he had "useful" discussions in Denmark with Turkish officials about Washington's alliance with the YPG in the fight against the IS in Syria.
"We're going to sort it out," Mattis said.
With reporting by Reuters, The New York Times, AP, and AFP