TEL AVIV – Ahead of the withdrawal of American troops in Syria, U.S. commanders have proposed that Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State terror group be allowed to keep American-supplied weapons, U.S. officials told Reuters.
The move is likely to anger NATO ally Turkey.
The proposal was part of discussions on a draft plan for the withdrawal by the U.S. Army, three officials speaking on condition of anonymity told the news wire.
The recommendations, which could see Kurdish militias keep anti-tank missiles, armored vehicles and mortars, will be presented to President Donald Trump in the coming days. He will make the final decision.
The Pentagon said it would be “inappropriate” and to early to comment on the fate of 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.
Trump’s surprise announcement last week ordering the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria elicited condemnation from various interested parties including U.S. commanders and Israel, and was quickly followed by the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
The move is seen as a betrayal of the Kurdish YPG militia, which was at the forefront of the fight against the Islamic State in northeastern Syria.
According to one of the officials, the U.S. assured the YPG that they would keep their weapons until the fight against Islamic State was over.
“The fight isn’t over. We can’t simply start asking for the weapons back,” said the official.
Turkey, which considers the YPG a terror group, has no desire for them to keep the weapons out of concern they will end up in the hands of Kurdish separatists. If Washington were to go through with the recommendations, it could nix Trump’s plan to let Ankara take over the fight against the Islamic State inside Syria.
According to one official, it would be impossible to recover all the weapons in any case.
“How are we going to get them back and who is going to take them back?” one of the officials asked.
“The idea that we’d be able to recover them is asinine. So we leave them where they are,” the official added.