The U.S. backed anti-ISIS coalition delivered armored vehicles to U.S.-backed Syrian rebels Tuesday, in a quiet sign of military escalation by the Trump administration.
“There are signs of full support from the new American leadership — more than before — for our forces,” an SDF spokesman told Reuters Tuesday. The Pentagon reportedly believes the Kurdish SDF forces are the only ones truly capable of retaking ISIS’s capital city of Raqqa in Syria.
The Syrian rebels, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, are a coalition of rebel groups supported by the U.S. whose primary mission is defeating ISIS. The coalition is largely dominated by Kurdish militia groups, much to the objection of U.S. NATO ally Turkey. Turkey regards these militia groups as great of a threat to its existence as Islamic State, hindering the then-Obama administration’s plans to provide further military assistance to the group.
The SDF’s statement and provision of new equipment indicate Trump will likely go further in assistance to Kurdish militias than his predecessor. Trump indicated in July he was both a “big fan” of the Kurdish forces, and wanted to balance his strategy with Turkey. “It would be really wonderful if we could put them somehow both together,” he told The New York Times.
Trump declared in his Inaugural Address that “eradicating ISIS” is one of the primary objectives of his presidency. The delivery of armored vehicles to the SDF could be a stop-gap escalation before a new fully implemented strategy is put into place. Trump ordered the Pentagon and Secretary of Defense James Mattis to fully review U.S. anti-ISIS strategy Saturday.
Mattis is charged with developing a fully comprehensive plan, including how to leverage new partners and how to best utilize the other departments of the U.S. government. “They will have 30 days to submit to the Oval Office a plan for soundly and quickly defeating ISIS. We have no choice,” he said during the campaign.