US aid allowed to flow to Kurdish forces helping ISIS in Syria, official says

A US official told the Associated Press on Wednesday that aid flows to refugees in Syria, including those fleeing the area around the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, may give President Donald Trump’s administration the legal and political justification to allow American military to assist the Iraqi forces taking on the Islamic State.

Mohammed Rasheed Namer, a Syrian official working with the Syrian Democratic Forces, told the Associated Press that US aid is reaching areas the Kurds have recaptured from Islamic State, like the region around Raqqa. He said America had given his forces multiple humanitarian items, but that they did not request or require military equipment.

A foreign aid official, who was briefed on the situation and spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to comment specifically on whether aid to the Kurds allowed US support for the Iraqi forces.

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A US official told the Associated Press that the military and the State Department are exploring legal and political processes for reaching a third party, like the Kurds, that could secure cooperation between the US and the Kurds, allowing aid to flow to both groups.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.

Earlier this year, the administration feared that allowing help for the Kurds would give the militants a pretext to demand US assistance for their defence in Syria.

The US, the UK and France have all backed the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the effort to retake Raqqa, which has been Islamic State’s de facto capital for nearly three years. The US-led coalition said on Wednesday it had continued its mission to defeat the militants in Raqqa.

In May, Trump lifted a ban that prevented the United States from providing direct military aid to the Kurds to train and arm them in northern Syria. Since then, US forces have killed hundreds of Islamic State fighters in air strikes near Raqqa. US officials say this is to preserve what they say is the military balance in the Syria conflict by maintaining the ability of the Syrian Kurds to fend off Islamic State as they advance into the city.

The US and UK-led coalition for air and ground support to Syrian opposition forces is supporting the SDF as it advanced into Raqqa city on Wednesday.

Iraqi commanders have announced that Iraqi forces had reached about 7 miles (11km) from the city.

The defeat of Islamic State in Raqqa would be a blow to the militants, who used the city as a headquarters in which to plot and launch terror attacks worldwide. The group has lost most of the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq.

But the US will have to face a new enemy in the form of its Iranian-backed Syrian militia allies. The US military says that so far in Syria it has mounted dozens of strikes against the Iran-backed militias after determining that they were close enough to attack Syrian government forces and allied forces.

Russian and US military officials have been meeting in an effort to ensure the safety of the Syrian armed forces, and Russian and US air forces, whose proximity threatens to cause danger to civilians and battlefield workers.

On Wednesday, the US military warned the Russians via military hotline that it will strike Iranian-backed forces firing artillery and heavy machine guns toward the Manbij area, in northern Syria.

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