“The YPG is armed and as the coalition stops operations then obviously you don’t need that, you need security, you need police forces, that is local forces, that is people who make certain that ISIS doesn’t come back,” Mattis told journalists on a military plane en route to Cairo as he was on his way to start a five-day trip to the Middle East. The YPG, or the People’s Protection Units, are Kurdish militias playing a leading role in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias supported by the US in Syria.
Asked if the US indeed intends to halt is program to arm the Kurdish forces in Syria, Mattis said, “Yes,” and added that Pentagon is “going to go exactly along the lines of what the President announced.” Last Sunday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that US President Donald Trump promised he would “not provide weapons to the YPG” in a phone call with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
However, at that time, Washington did not issue any clear statement of the White House’s position on that matter. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the US is ready to “stop providing military equipment to certain groups" in Syria during a briefing on Monday. Pentagon also went only as far as to say that it was reviewing “adjustments” in arms for the Syrian Kurds.
The US is also expected to recover heavy weapons and larger vehicles from the YPG while light weapons are likely to remain in the Kurds’ hands, Reuters and AP reported, citing US officials. It was also unclear if the US has already halted its arms supplies to the Kurds, or is only preparing to do that.
Mattis also said that the Pentagon was "changing the composition of our forces" in Syria as its operations there enter their final stages. “The troops are changing their stance... that includes with our allies who are now changing their stance as they come to the limits of where they are going,” he said, as cited by Reuters.
The US recently said that about 400 Marines and their artillery would be leaving Syria after the end of the operation aimed at retaking Raqqa from Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL). The actual number of American troops in Syria, however, could still be significant as recent reports suggest that the US is concealing their true numbers in the Middle Eastern country.
The US program envisaging arms supplies to the Syrian Kurds, as well as disagreements over their future status, have strained relations between Washington and Ankara. Turkey views the US-backed Kurdish YPG militia as a terrorist organization linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Washington has repeatedly stressed that, while it is aware of Turkey’s security concerns, its policy of arming the Kurds is “necessary to ensure a clear victory” in Raqqa. Ankara, however, claimed that the YPG is not fighting Islamic State but seeks to engage in cooperation with the extremists.
Less than a week before his phone call with Trump, Erdogan accused the US of “breaking its promises” in Syria over its continued support for the YPG, and even claimed that the US was providing "a lot of dollars" to the Islamic State terrorists.