Speaking on a military plane en route to Cairo, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters that as offensive operations against Islamic State in Syria entered their final stages, he expected the focus to move towards holding territory instead of arming Syrian Kurdish fighters. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday (December 2) that as offensive operations against Islamic State in Syria entered their final stages, he expected the focus to move towards holding territory instead of arming Syrian Kurdish fighters. Speaking with reporters on a military plane en route to Cairo, Mattis did not say if there had already been a halt to weapons transfers. Upon arriving in Cairo, Mattis met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. U.S. President Donald Trump informed Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a call last week that Washington was adjusting military support to partners on the ground in Syria. The Syrian Kurdish YPG spearheads the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias fighting Islamic State with the help of a U.S.-led coalition. Turkey's presidency had previously reported that the United States would not supply weapons to Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria. Until now, the Pentagon has only gone as far as saying it was reviewing "adjustments" in arms for the Syrian Kurdish forces, which Ankara views as a threat. "The YPG is armed and as the coalition stops offensive (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 said. When asked if that would specifically mean the U.S. would stop arming the YPG, Mattis said: "Yeah, we are going to go exactly along the lines of what the President announced." Ankara has been infuriated by Washington's support for the YPG militia, seen by Turkey as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and European Union. The United States expects to recover heavy weapons and larger vehicles from the YPG, but lighter weapons are unlikely to be completely recovered, U.S. officials have said.