WASHINGTON: US commanders planning for the withdrawal of US troops from Syria are recommending that Kurdish fighters battling Daesh be allowed to keep US-supplied weapons, four US officials said, a move that would likely anger NATO ally Turkey.
Three of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the recommendations were part of discussions on a draft plan by the US military. It is unclear what the Pentagon will ultimately recommend to the White House.
Discussions are still at an early stage inside the Pentagon and no decision has yet been made, the officials said. The plan will then be presented to the White House in the coming days with US President Donald Trump making the final decision.
The Pentagon said it would be “inappropriate” and premature to comment on what will happen with the weapons.
“Planning is ongoing, and focused on executing a deliberate and controlled withdrawal of forces while taking all measures possible to ensure our troops’ safety,” said Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman.
The White House did not comment. Trump last week abruptly ordered a complete withdrawal of US troops from Syria, drawing widespread criticism and prompting Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation.
The US officials said Trump’s announcement has upset US commanders, who view his decision as a betrayal of the Kurdish YPG militia, which has led the fight to eradicate Daesh from northeastern Syria.
Ankara views the YPG as an extension of a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey. Turkey has threatened to launch an offensive against the YPG, raising fears of a surge in violence that could harm hundreds of thousands of civilians. The US told the YPG that they would be armed by Washington until the fight against Daesh was completed, one of the US officials said.
“The fight isn’t over. We can’t simply start asking for the weapons back,” said the official.
The proposal to leave US-supplied weapons with the YPG, which could include anti-tank missiles, armored vehicles and mortars, would reassure Kurdish allies that they were not being abandoned.
But Turkey wants the US to take the weapons back, so the commanders’ recommendation, if confirmed, could complicate Trump’s plan to allow Turkey to finish off the fight against Daesh inside Syria.
The Pentagon keeps records of the weapons it has supplied to the YPG and their chain of custody. But, the US officials said, it would be nearly impossible to locate all of the equipment.