The United States has reportedly been arming the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara believes is linked to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), considered as a terrorist group by Turkey. While Washington has promised it would recollect the weapons it had allegedly handed over to the YPG, Turkey has cast doubts that it will actually happen.
Since Ankara launched the operation, codenamed “Olive Branch,” in Syria’s Afrin on January 20, the Turkish military have reportedly confiscated US weapons from terrorist groups, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashing out at its NATO ally.
"You did not give us weapons when we asked for them but gave them to terrorists instead. Now, that ammunition is in our possession," he said on March 20.
Turkish forces have discovered and seized two AT-4 unguided anti-tank weapons from the PKK militants during counter-terrorist operations in southeastern parts of the country, according to an official Twitter account operated by the Turkish Armed Forces.
"It is likely that the weapons were procured by Iraqi security from the United States before being captured by Islamic State forces. The sighting of such weapons bearing an identical lot number to an AT-4 recovered from PKK forces in Turkey makes it likely the items shared part of their supply chain,” Conflict Armament Research (CAR) Head of Regional Operations Damien Spleeters said.
Meanwhile, the United States and Sweden are the only countries that produced the AT-4, under end-user agreements, which are meant to ensure the non-proliferation of weapons to unauthorized groups. When Turkish forces released the data on the anti-tank missiles, Sweden's arms export authority confirmed they were manufactured in the United States. Washington, for its part, has explained that those munitions were produced under a 1982 contract prior to the introduction of end-user agreements. In theory, AT-4s manufactured before end-user agreements can be shipped anywhere without limitation.
Furthermore, some reports suggest that the US has provided the Iraqi government with 2,000 AT-4s and the Peshmerga forces with 1,000. Although, controls failed to keep track of who got the arms due to the quick changing of hands.
"We cannot speculate on equipment that may be lost on the battlefield," said spokesperson for US operations against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, Colonel Ryan Dillon, responding to the questions of how such weapons ended up in the PKK’s possession.
This is not the first time that US weapons have fallen into the wrong hands. In January 2018, terrorists from the Idlib de-escalation zone launched numerous drones to attack Russian military bases in Hmeymim and Tartus in Syria. While the Russian Ministry of Defense stressed that the weapons used by the militants could only have been obtained from a technologically advanced country, the Pentagon refuted those claims, saying that such devices were “easily available” on the “open market.”
*Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL/IS), a terrorist group banned in Russia