US commanders are recommending that allied Kurdish forces in Syria keep their US-supplied weapons in light of President Trump's decision to stage a total pullout of troops after claiming that terror group Isis has been defeated. But such a move would most likely anger NATO ally, Turkey.
Three of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to Reuters, said the recommendations were part of discussions on a draft plan by the US military. It is unclear what the Pentagon will ultimately recommend to the White House.
"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.
Discussions are still at an early stage inside the Pentagon and no decision has yet been made, the officials said.
Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria has alarmed the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, US allies in the fight against Isis in northeastern Syria. Ankara views the YPG as an extension of a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey. Turkey has threatened to launch an offensive against the YPG, raising fears of a surge in violence that could threaten hundreds of thousands of civilians.
"The fight isn't over. We can't simply start asking for the weapons back," said the Pentagon official.
The proposal to leave US-supplied weapons with the YPG, which could include anti-tank missiles, armoured vehicles and mortars, would reassure Kurdish allies that they were not being abandoned.
But Turkey wants the US to take the weapons back, so the commanders' recommendation, if confirmed, could complicate Trump's plan to allow Turkey to finish off the fight against Islamic State in Syria.
The debate over whether to leave weapons with the YPG coincides with Trump's national security adviser John Bolton's visit to Turkey and Israel next week for talks on Syria.