The United States is currently unsure if Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) fighters, who have reportedly received nearly 50 tons of ammunition funded by American taxpayers, will participate in the U.S. operation to retake Raqqa, the de facto Syrian capital of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), according to the Pentagon.
Although the Pentagon has repeatedly insisted that a group of Syrian Arabs fighting ISIS known as the Syrian Arab Coalition received the ammunition airdropped by the U.S. military in northern Syria on Oct. 11. The Washington Post and Turkey’s Daily Sabah reported on Thursday that the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the national Kurdish army in Syria, claimed the supplies.
Nevertheless, Cmdr. Elissa Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, still maintains that Syrian Arab Coalition received the ammunition.
“As we’ve said before, the group that we intended to receive the items, a group of Syrian Arabs fighting ISIL, received the airdropped items,” she told Breitbart News on Friday. “The Syrian Arab group works very closely with other counter-ISIL ground forces that include Syrian Arabs, Kurds, Turkoman and other groups native to the region. The particular recipients of this ammunition were Syrian Arab groups.”
Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the anti-ISIS U.S. mission, indicated on Wednesday that the YPG is hesitant to attack ISIS in Raqqa.
“As far as pressure on Raqqa, you know, this is why our partnership with the Syrian Arabs is so vital, because the Syrian Arabs really have the ability to pressure Raqqa heavily,” he said via teleconference from Baghdad. “Whether or not Kurdish fighters are willing to move that far south, frankly, is an unknown at this point. We have not seen Kurds operate in Arab territory very much… but we do know that Syrian Arabs are ready. They’re willing.”
Warren revealed that the Syrian Arab Coalition includes about 5,000 fighters.
The Pentagon revamped its failed effort to assist so-called moderate Syrian rebels on the ground, shifting its focus away from training and equipping to concentrating only on the latter, providing them with weapons and other equipment to fight ISIS.
On Oct. 11, the Obama administration kick-started its revamped effort when it airdropped 50 tons of small arms ammunition and grenades in northern Syria.
“We are very confident, very confident that the ammunition that we dropped to the Syrian Arab Coalition is in the hands of the Syrian Arab Coalition, and is being distributed to fighters who are members of the Syrian Arab coalition,” he added, echoing similar assurances made to Breitbart News Oct. 13 by Cmdr. Smith.
Nevertheless, The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the overall command of the YPG claimed the 50 tons of ammunition.
The Daily Sabah added that Salih Muslim, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) co-chair, along with locals in the region have contradicted the Pentagon’s repeated claims that it did not drop ammunition directly to the YPG.
Whether or not the Kurdish fighters got the ammunition is important because of Turkish concerns surrounding the United States’ growing relationship with Syrian Kurds.
Turkey accuses the YPG of being linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that has been designated a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington. The PYD is considered to be the PKK’s Syrian affiliate.
Turkey has already complained to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara that the YPG received the weapons intended for Arabs.
“While the U.S. arms the YPG, the YPG seems to have a different agenda rather than defeating ISIS, according to some,” reports the Daily Sabah. “Claimed to be planning to seize cantons in northern Syria, the YPG’s hesitant approach might pose trouble for the Pentagon.”
On Oct. 13, Cmdr. Smith suggested that the Kurds did not get the ammunition.
“We share the concern of our Turkish partners over the sensitivity of expanding Kurdish control into traditionally non-Kurdish areas in Syria,” she told Breitbart News on Oct. 13.
“The United States of America has not given ammunition to the Kurds,” Col. Warren told reporters on Wednesday.
Col. Warren said the U.S. has been training the Syrian Arab Coalition.
“We spent about one week training roughly 20 of their leaders,” he said. “These 20 leaders come from the eight to 10 smaller groups of fighters, groups of Arab fighters who coalesced together, who banded together to create the Syrian Arab coalition.”
When asked if the coalition would be strong enough to take Raqqa, Col. Warren said the group “will need to be beefed up, adding that he believes “5,000 [fighters] is probably not enough to do it.”
Citing YPG commanders, The Washington Post reported that the Syrian Democratic Forces, a new YPG-dominated umbrella group that includes Arab and Syrian minority groups, announced its existence on the day the U.S. airdropped the ammunition in northern Syria.
The “supplies were always to be used at the discretion of a newly created umbrella entity,” added the Post.