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US may continue arming YPG fighters in Syria even after Raqqa's fall

United States Secretary of Defence, James Mattis during his official visit to Saudi Arabia on 19 April 2017. [Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Kingdom Council/Handout]
United States Secretary of Defence, James Mattis during his official visit to Saudi Arabia on 19 April 2017. [Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Kingdom Council/Handout]

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Tuesday left open the possibility of longer-term assistance to Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, saying the US may need to supply them weapons and equipment even after the capture of Raqqa from Daesh.

NATO ally Turkey, which views the YPG as a threat, has said Mattis assured it in a letter that the United States would eventually take back the weapons it was giving them once Daesh was defeated.

Mattis, in his first public remarks on the issue, did not directly dispute that account.

"We'll do what we can," Mattis told reporters during his flight to Germany, when asked about weapons recovery.

But Mattis also noted that YPG fighters were well-armed even before the US last month decided to offer more specialised equipment for its urban assault on Daesh-held city of Raqqa.

Mattis also said the battle against Daesh would continue even after Raqqa was captured and focused his answers about US weapons' recovery on items he believed the YPG would no longer need in battle.

Asked if Kurdish militia would revert to their pre-Raqqa level of armaments once the fight was over, Mattis responded:

Well, we'll see. It depends what the next mission is. I mean, it's not like the fight's over when Raqqa's over.

Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdish PKK, which has been waging an insurgency in the country's southeast since the mid-1980s. It has said supplies to the YPG have in the past ended up in PKK hands, describing any weapons given to the force as a threat to its security.

The US, however, sees the YPG as an essential ally in the campaign to defeat Daesh in Raqqa, the jihadists' main urban base in Syria.

Mattis will meet his Turkish counterpart, Defence Minister Fikri Isik, on Thursday in Brussels.

The US, Mattis said, in the near-term would be recovering weapons that the group does not need anymore as the battle advances.

"We'll be recovering (the weapons) during the battle, repairing them. When they don't need certain things anymore, we'll replace those with something they do need," Mattis said.

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