Syrian Democratic Forces receive first shipment of armour from US, but Pentagon says supply order had been 'in the works for some time'
A Kurdish-led militia fighting the Islamic State group in northern Syria said on Tuesday it had received armoured vehicles from the Donald Trump administration, saying they were the first such weapons supplied by the US.
The vehicles were paraded on Monday by the SDF, a coalition of Arab and Kurdish militias led by the YPG which is fighting the Islamic State in the north of Syria.
"American armoured vehicles have arrived for the Syrian Democratic Forces for the first time," said spokesman Talal Sello. "This happened after the new US administration came to power."
Sello added the Trump administration had "promised extra support".
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Though the number was small, Sello said, "this is evidence that there are signs of new support... previously we didn't get support in this form, we would get light weapons and ammunition".
"There are signs of full support from the new American leadership - more than before - for our forces," he said.
US military spokesman Colonel John Dorrian said the armoured vehicles had been provided "using existing authorities, in the interest of helping protect our partnered force the improvised-explosive device threat."
"The decision was made by military commanders, and has been in the works for some time," he added.
The SDF and its principal militia, the YPG, have for years complained of a lack of heavy equipment, despite being the most effective US ally in the fight against IS in Syria.
The YPG and its allies famously used makeshift armoured vehicles to defend the city of Kobane.
A makeshift armoured vehicle used by the YPG to defend Kobane (screengrab)
The SDF's new vehicles are "Guardians" produced by the International Armored Group, a Canadian company with factories in the US, UAE, and Turkey.
Turkey says the YPG, also known as the People's Protection Units, is a "terrorist organisation" linked to the PKK, a Kurdish militia Turkey has fought inside its borders for decades.
Ankara has repeatedly protested against US support for the YPG and its allies, and launched operations inside northern Syria to roll back its gains against the IS group.
Meanwhile, the SDF said it had begun a new phase of an operation to choke the IS Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, saying the city would soon be cut off from other territories held by the group.
"The coming phase of the campaign aims to isolate Raqqa completely," said the Kurdish military source, who declined to be named.
"In order to accomplish this requires reaching the Raqqa-Deir al-Zor road," the source said. "This mission will be difficult."
Sello said preparations were under way for "new action" against IS starting in "a few days", but declined to give further details.
He said the new vehicles would be deployed in the campaign, which began in November and is supported by US special forces and air power.