US forces ride in the back of a pickup truck in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa in late May. Photo: Delil Souleiman | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Responding to questions on how the United States would account for weapons given to Kurdish fighters in the fight against ISIS after Raqqa is under control, Defense Secretary James Mattis made no promises.
"We'll do what we can," The Associated Press reported he told reporters traveling with him to Germany.
The US-led international coalition is supporting the Kurdish-led Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces' (SDF) campaign to clear the Euphrates river valley and particularly Raqqa city of ISIS militants.
"We're going to equip them for the fight,” Mattis said. “If they have another fight and they need, you know, the light trucks that they've been using... we'll get them that."
The US has acknowledged it has supplied small arms, ammunition and vehicles in northern Syria, and that weapons would be metered out on an as-needed basis "to ensure a clear victory over ISIS."
Ankara believes weapons used by the YPG will find their way into Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerillas’ hands to fuel their more than three-decade-long insurgency against the Turkish government.
"We'll be recovering (the weapons) during the battle, repairing them,” Mattis explained. “When they don't need certain things anymore, we'll replace those with something they do need.”
The Coalition spokesperson US Col. Ryan Dillon acknowledged to reporters on Friday that US Secretary of Defense James Mattis had sent a letter to his counterpart in Ankara regarding reassurances for the supplied weapons, we wouldn’t elaborate on it because that was “between them.”
Mattis will meet Defense Minister Fikri Isik on Thursday in Brussels.
With Syrian government forces and their proxies coming within kilometers of coalition-partnered forces south of the Euphrates, the defense secretary was asked how the land could be jointly controlled.
"It'll be based on where does the river bend here and which side of the river is the town on there, this sort of thing. So it may look a little more squiggly," Mattis said, according to AP.
He said the commanders can work it all out, "however, as you mix more forces more closely together, what worked before for de-confliction is going to take more precision."
The coalition spokesperson elaborated on how de-confliction is taking place currently between the Russians and the coalition.
"We maintain a de-confliction line with the Russians, so think of a telephone line so when have our forces and the regime forces and other forces that are operating in a very tight space within Syria, we do maintain an open line with the Russians so we can make sure that we do not or inadvertently are fighting or are having a mishap with one another,” he told Rudaw English on Tuesday.
Dillon described the first two weeks in Raqqa as "very, very quick advances."
"They have come up against some stiff resistance against ISIS,” Dillon explained while elaborating on the last week of fighting. “But nevertheless, they continue to close in on Raqqa city from three different axes.”
Mattis arrived in Germany today where he will meet German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen.