US eyes arms for YPG fighters in Syria even after Raqqa’s fall

US eyes arms for YPG fighters in Syria even after Raqqa’s fall

MUNICH - Reuters
US eyes arms for YPG fighters in Syria even after Raqqa’s fall

AFP photo

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis left open on June 27 the possibility of longer-term assistance to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, saying the U.S. may need to supply them weapons and equipment even after the capture of Raqqa from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

NATO ally Turkey, which views the YPG as a threat for its links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has said Mattis assured it in a letter that the United States would eventually take back the weapons it was giving them once ISIL was defeated.

Mattis, in his first public remarks on the issue, did not directly dispute that account.

“We’ll do what we can,” Mattis told reporters during his flight to Germany, when asked about weapons recovery.

But Mattis also noted that YPG militants were well-armed even before the U.S. last month decided to offer more specialised equipment for its urban assault on ISIL-held city of Raqqa.

Mattis also said the battle against ISIL would continue even after Raqqa was captured and focused his answers about U.S. weapons’ recovery on items he believed the YPG would no longer need in battle.

Asked if the YPG would revert to their pre-Raqqa level of armaments once the fight was over, Mattis responded: “Well, we’ll see. It depends what the next mission is. I mean, it’s not like the fight’s over when Raqqa’s over.”

Turkey It has said supplies to the YPG have in the past ended up in PKK hands, describing any weapons given to the force as a threat to its security.

Turkish President Erdoğan once again harshly criticized the U.S. on June 25 for providing arms to YPG, declaring the move to be a violation of the NATO treaty.

“We will be together in NATO, and you will act together with terrorist groups. What kind of business is this?

In this case, the NATO treaty should be revised,” Erdoğan said June 25 at a party rally on Eid al-Fitr.

“Those who think that they can fool Turkey by saying that they will get those weapons back will eventually understand the vital mistake they made, but it will be too late. We will call to account the real owners of those weapons for every drop of blood they shed with those weapons,” Erdoğan added.

The U.S., however, sees the YPG as an essential ally in the campaign to defeat ISIL in Raqqa, the jihadists’ main urban base in Syria.

Mattis will meet his Turkish counterpart, Defense Minister Fikri Işık, on June 29 in Brussels.

The U.S., Mattis said, in the near-term would be recovering weapons that the group does not need anymore as the battle advances.

“We’ll be recovering [the weapons] during the battle, repairing them. When they don’t need certain things anymore, we’ll replace those with something they do need,” Mattis said.