It has been little over a week since President Trump upended US foreign policy in the Middle East by abruptly recalling the few thousand US troops fighting alongside Kurdish fighters in Syria, and the administration is still figuring out exactly how to manage the withdrawal in a way that won't leave an opening for ISIS to make a comeback. Perhaps the biggest sticking point so far has been how much support to allow the Kurds, who - in addition to trying to take back the few slivers of ISIS territory remaining in northeastern Syria, are also at risk of being decimated by Turkish forces in a cross-border attack.
And though the DoD hasn't finished hammering out the final details of a plan to be presented to President Trump, one of the more controversial strategies under discussion is the possibility that the US might allow Kurdish forces to hang on to the weapons that were initially supplied by the US back in the spring of 2017 ahead of a bloody offensive against the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa (the self-declared caliphate's de facto capital), according to an anonymously sourced Reuters report.
The report could create some tension next week when National Security Advisor John Bolton is expected to visit Turkey, which vehemently opposed the US's decision to arm the Kurds, and would likely view the decision to allow Kurdish forces to hold on to the arms as an affront, arguing that US arms could wind up in the hands of Kurdish separatists in Turkey, which have been subject to a brutal crackdown by President Erdogan and his regime.
However, though US commanders reportedly acknowledge that the White House would likely oppose the plan - at least at first - some say taking the weapons back at this point in the battle would be foolish, because the fight against ISIS isn't over, and because it could be difficult to recover all of the weapons.
"The idea that we’d be able to recover them is asinine. So we leave them where they are," said a U.S. official.
A person familiar with the discussions of the U.S. withdrawal plan said the White House and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan would oppose the proposal to allow the YPG to keep its U.S.-supplied weapons.
The recommendation "is a rejection of Trump’s policy to withdraw from Syria," said the person, who asked not to be further identified.
Turkey has said weapons supplied to the YPG have in the past ended up in the hands of its Kurdish separatists, and described any weapon given to the insurgents as a threat to Turkey’s security.
Though the Pentagon has recorded the chain of custody for the weapons, Reuters' sources believe recovering all of them would be nearly impossible.
The Pentagon keeps records of the weapons it has supplied to the YPG and their chain of custody. But, the U.S. officials said, it would be nearly impossible to locate all of the equipment.
"How are we going to get them back and who is going to take them back?" one of the officials asked.
Those who are familiar with the haphazard nature of the US's support to various rebel groups - groups that sometimes found themselves in conflict (with one group armed by the military and another armed by the CIA) - should recognize an even greater risk: That some of these weapons could find their way into the hands of groups aligned with ISIS, or even ISIS itself.