An official from the us Defense Department has said the US no longer delivers weapons to Syrian Kurdish militia the People’s Protection Units (YPG), but rather provides arms to the Syrian opposition forces battling the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a policy shift that would soothe the concerns of Turkey, a NATO ally, over the expansion of Kurdish influence in northern Syria.
“As of now, we are not providing weapons or ammunition to the YPG. The weapons that we’ve provided thus far, with the ammunition that we’ve provided in our one airdrop that executed, was for the Syrian-Arab coalition,” Col. Steve Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIL, told reporters via teleconference from Baghdad.
“As of now, future resupplies will also go to Arab-vetted Syrian opposition members,” he added in response to a question.
His remarks came as Turkey voiced displeasure and concern over the deepening nature of US-YPG cooperation against ISIL in Syria. The Kurdish militia proved to be one of the most potent and formidable fighting forces against the ISIL, wresting hundreds of miles of territory back from the radical group.
Left without viable alternatives, the US found itself aligned with the YPG to roll back ISIL gains in Syria. That cooperation, the YPG on the ground backed by US air strikes, notably paid off.
Last month, moderate rebel forces, including the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the YPG formed a new alliance called the Democratic Forces of Syria, or SDF.
Warren said the US understands Turkish concerns over northern Syria, praising the advanced cooperation between the two sides.
He said future resupplies will go to Syrian opposition forces, or the Syrian Arab Coalition, but did not mention the YPG. When considering that the YPG is part of the coalition, it may obtain some of the weapons in future resupplies.
The YPG factor remains a major element of friction between the US and Turkey as the latter views further territorial gains by Kurdish militia as a threat to its national security. Ankara sees a link between the YPG and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is fighting the Turkish state for autonomy and more rights to Kurdish community.
Turkey fears the YPG-controlled zone may fuel separatist sentiment among its own Kurdish constituency. While the PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by the US, the EU and Turkey, Washington does not regard the YPG in same category despite Turkish depiction of the Syrian militia as a terrorist organization.
US eyes more weapons to Syrian rebels
Warren told reporters the SDF had taken back about 255 square kilometers from ISIL around the village of al-Hawl.
Some of those forces included fighters from the Syrian Arab Coalition, which the United States says received 50 tons of ammunition during a US airdrop into Syria on Oct. 12.
Warren said the operation was backed by 17 US-led coalition air strikes, killing 79 ISIL fighters and destroying ISIL weapons systems around al-Hawl, near the Iraqi border.
“While this is not a large tactical action, we believe the operation demonstrates the viability of our program to provide support to these forces,” Warren told Pentagon reporters.
Asked whether this meant more air drops of weaponry, either arms or ammunition, Warren said: “On the weapons resupply, yes. The answer is yes.”
The US military, when it carried out its first air drop of ammunition last month to the Syrian Arab Coalition, said it was going to make sure the weaponry was used correctly before providing additional arms.
“We have seen that. We believe that the success is 200-plus kilometers of ground that the Syrian Arab Coalition has managed to take, to some extent, validates this program,” Warren said.
“It’s not a complete validation — I want to be clear about that. But we’re encouraged by what we see, and … we intend to reinforce success.”
Washington’s strategy in Syria has shifted from trying to train fighters outside the country to supplying groups headed by US-vetted commanders.
The United States also announced last week it would send dozens of US special operations forces to northern Syria to advise those opposition forces fighting ISIL.
The decision by US President Barack Obama, deeply averse to committing troops to unpopular wars in the Middle East, would mark the first sustained US troop presence in Syria and raises the risk of American casualties.
US officials have stressed the forces would not engage in front-line combat.
By Todays Zaman