- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Obama administration’s reliance on Kurdish militants to fight the Islamic State has prompted deep friction with Turkey, but Secretary of State John F. Kerry says U.S. weapons will continue to flow to the so-called peshmerga forces, with some 5 million rounds of ammunition expected to be delivered soon.

While the sheer extent of American hardware provided to the Kurds has been difficult to calculate during recent years, Mr. Kerry sought to put a fine point on the matter during a budgetary hearing held by the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday morning.

“We’ve provided the peshmerga with more than 65 million rounds of rifle ammunition, 41,000 grenades, 115,000 mortar rounds, 60,000 anti-tank rounds including 1,000 [unguided] AT4s, more than 56,000 RPG rounds, 45,000 weapons including rifles, anti-tank systems, [and] heavy caliber machine guns,” Mr. Kerry said.

This is not to mention equipment for countering the threat of IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, including “more than 150 vehicles, ambulances [and] mine resistant vehicles,” he said, adding that “additional equipment is on the way: 5 million rounds of more rifles ammunition.”

The secretary of state did not identify any specific Kurdish militia group that the weapons are being channeled to. He said only that they were being provided to “the peshmerga.”

The broad language is likely to infuriate leaders in Turkey, who accuse Washington of supporting not only secular peshmerga fighters aligned with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, but also the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and People’s Protection Units (YPG) — two groups deemed as terrorist organizations by Ankara.

Mr. Kerry offered his weapons rundown during an exchange with lawmakers on the question of what Congress and the administration might do to expedite the sale and shipment of weapons to U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL.

“The current foreign military financing and sale processes are cumbersome and bogged down by bureaucracy and the problems continue,” said Rep. Kay Granger, Texas Republican. “[I’ve] heard complaints about equipment delays to our partners for example, Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt.”

Mr. Kerry responded that “the whole procurement system could be sped and that’s a huge challenge for the appropriations committees and frankly the Pentagon and procurement process itself together with the State Department.”

“We try to move it as fast as we can I can assure you,” he said, adding that “we are currently providing expedited assistance to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, UAE and other counter ISIL coalition members.”

But his comments on the Kurds are most likely to trigger a reaction in the Middle East, where Turkish leaders have increasingly blamed the administration’s muddled policy in Syria for fueling a widening security crisis inside their own country.

Ankara has set nerves on edge in Washington with its assertions that last week’s suicide car bombing in the Turkish capital was carried out by Kurdish militants — the same militants whom U.S. officials are backing as proxies in their fight against ISIS in neighboring Syria.

Turkey fears that an autonomous Kurdish region is gradually being carved out in Syria — similar to the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq — and that its existence eventually will spur violent separatist ambitions among the Kurdish population in Turkey.

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