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US denies Turkish media reports Himars rocket launchers in Syria are for SDF

US military ties to Kurdish-dominated militias in Syria are a source of acrimony with Ankara
A Himars launcher is seen in Grier Labouihi region in Agadir, southern Morocco, during a military exercise, on 21 June 2022 (AFP)

The US acknowledged sending the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars) to Syria but denied reports in Turkish media that the launchers have been transferred to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria.

“Yes, there are HIMARS in the country [Syria] for force protection,” a US Central Command spokesperson told Middle East Eye on Wednesday, but “CENTCOM is not providing the HIMARS or training to the SDF.”

Turkish news outlets, including the English language Daily Sabah, cited unnamed sources saying the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars) had been transferred to the YPG - the backbone of the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - at US bases in northern Syria’s Deir el-Zour province.

US support for the SDF, which Turkey views as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, has long been a source of acrimony in the Nato allies' relationship. The US, European Union, and Turkey consider the group, known as the PKK, a terrorist organisation. But Washington refuses to cut ties with the SDF, which it sees as the most effective fighting force against the Islamic State militant (IS) group.

The spokesperson told MEE that Centcom does not disclose the location of Himars, citing security risks. About 900 US troops are based throughout Syria, including in the north, mainly in the provinces of Raqqa, Hasakah, and Deir el-Zour.

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US troops in Syria have come under frequent attack from what Washington says are Iranian-backed groups. In March, General Erik Kurilla, the top US military general for the Middle East, said there had been 78 such attacks against US and coalition forces with drones, rockets and mortars since January 2021.

The most recent strike was in March when a drone struck an anti-IS coalition base in northeast Syria, killing a US contractor and injuring another along with five US service members. The US military responded to that attack by carrying out multiple air strikes in Syria against Iran-linked targets.

Himars have gained global notoriety as a result of their effective use against Russia by Ukrainian forces. The mobile artillery rocket systems are mounted on a six-wheeled vehicle and operated by a crew of three. Guided rockets launched by Himars are used for medium-range precision strikes up to 70km.

The Turkish media reports come after the reelection on Sunday of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In November, Erdogan threatened a new military incursion into northern Syria to route out what Ankara says are “Kurdish terrorists”.

The SDF went on a high-profile public relations campaign to warn that a Turkish assault would threaten its fight against remaining IS militants and guardianship of IS prisons. Washington also warned Turkey against launching an assault.

Tensions reached their apex when a Turkish drone struck a base in Hasakah, Syria, coming within 300 metres of American troops, in a strike the US said “directly threatened” its forces.

Western officials told MEE previously that they hope with the decisive elections over in Turkey, Erdogan will move to approve Sweden’s bid to join Nato, which Ankara has been blocking over allegations that the country supports the PKK.

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