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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Kurds will be allowed to keep US weapons for now

Jim Mattis, US Secretary of Defense, said that the US will continue to provide weapons to Kurdish fighters in Syria even after the Islamic State has been ousted from its last main stronghold in Syria Raqqa.

The US had earlier promised that it would take back weapons that it supplied to the YPG after Turkey expressed alarm over arming Kurds on its border. The YPG, Peoples' Protection Units, are regarded by Turkey as a terrorist group but the US regards them as a key ally in the fight against the Islamic State(IS) in Syria and has supported them with arms and training. The YPG are the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) supported by the US in Syria. The US said the weapons would be returned after the defeat of the Islamic State. The US is also to present Turkey with a monthly inventory of weapons that the US provides to the YPG. The Turkish defense ministry said that the first inventory had already been sent to Turkey.
Mattis now says that the defeat of the Islamic State in Raqqa does not mean that the Kurds will be required to return the weapons provided to them. Mattis claimed that the US had made it clear all along "we're going to equip them for the fight. If they have another fight, and they need, you know, the light trucks they have been using...we'll get them that". Mattis was also non-commital when asked if all the weapons the Kurds received had to be returned Mattis said: "We'll do what we can." However, Mattis did say that as fighting goes on the US will collect weapons, or take certain weapons back and provide the Kurds with others: "When they don't need certain things any more, we'll replace those with something they do need."
The US has not publicly revealed the amount or even specific types of weapons provided for the Kurds. However, anonymous officials have said that 120 mm mortars, machine guns, ammunition and light armoured vehicles are most likely what was sent. The shipments began in May and the Pentagon said only that small arms and ammunition were included. The officials said that artillery and surface-to-air missiles were not provided.
There are already clashes taking place between Turkish-backed troops in northern Syria and Kurdish forces. The Kurdish canton of Afrin has been repeatedly shelled by the pro-Turkish forces. Fire has been returned by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The YPG confirmed that attacks had increased in the area. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights observed that there had been a build up of Turkish troops in the area and that it appears that they are planning a wide-scale military offensive in the northern Aleppo countryside.

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