Defense minister discusses YPG armament remarks with US counterpart

MEHMET SOLMAZ
BRUSSELS
Published 29.06.2017 00:00
Updated 29.06.2017 10:21

Prior to today's NATO Defense Ministers Meeting in Brussels, Defense Minister Fikri Işık held a closed-door meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has given mixed answers to Washington's position on retrieving the heavy weaponry sent to the PKK Syrian affiliate Democratic Union Party's (PYD) People's Protection Units (YPG) militia.

Mattis recently sent a letter to Işık saying that the United States will retrieve the weapons it sent to the YPG in Raqqa, Syria, when Daesh is defeated. In a contradictory statement he gave during his flight to Germany on Tuesday, Mattis said the U.S. will continue to arm the YPG.

His letter to Işık reportedly included detailed information about the military materials and equipment provided to the YPG for the operation against Daesh in Raqqa. Mattis also ensured that the U.S. would share a list of materials given to the YPG each month with Turkey, adding that the first inventory report was sent this month.

Mattis emphasized that the distributed weapons would only be used within Syria and that U.S. experts were deployed in the field to observe the operations, assuring that the weapons do not cross borders.

However, on Tuesday, Mattis left open the possibility of longer-term assistance to the YPG in Syria, saying the U.S. may need to supply it weapons and equipment even after the capture of Raqqa from Daesh in the continuing fight against the terrorist group.

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

Speaking in a televised interview before Mattis's latest remarks, Işık said Mattis's letter was positive.

"It's important that they are making a written commitment," Işık said."But we will see if the statements in the letter are met on the ground," he added, drawing attention to an earlier promise by Washington on the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij, which did not materialize.

NATO members to increase defense spending in 2017

Europe's NATO members and Canada will jointly raise defense spending 4.3 percent in 2017, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday, partly aimed at showing the U.S. they are committed to shouldering more costs.

U.S. President Donald Trump has made more expenditure his priority for NATO. Trump used his first alliance meeting in May to scold European leaders about spending, which is at historical lows and does not meet NATO's goal of member countries spending 2 percent of their GDP.

This year's increase represents the fastest spending growth since cuts stopped three years ago. Growth was 1.8 percent in 2015, and 3.3 percent last year, but it was unclear how close the new increase will bring spending to the alliance's target.

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