Coalition says training of ‘border force’ in line with anti-IS mission despite Turkish opposition
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The US has distanced itself from recent claims it was training a new border security force in Syria, a move that had angered both the Syrian regime and neighboring Turkey.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday denied that a new, Kurdish-led force was being deployed to Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey, explaining there had been a misunderstanding regarding the training.
“We are not creating a border force,” Tillerson told reporters after he met with Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in Vancouver earlier this week. The training would focus on existing elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDC), the US’ main ally in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.
In an email to Kurdistan 24, the Combined Joint Task Force -Operation Inherent Resolve’s (CJTF-OIR) press office confirmed the force was not a “new army or conventional border guard force.”
“This training and these forces are consistent with OIR’s mission,” the emailed statement read. “These security forces are internally-focused to prevent [IS] fighters from fleeing Syria.”
On Wednesday, Turkey’s National Security Council said the Ankara government would not allow the formation of a “terrorist army” alongside its southern border, slamming the United States for its commitment in training the Syrian Kurds in ensuring an “enduring defeat of [IS].”
Headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the capital Ankara, the civilian-military council once again threatened an invasion of the isolated Kurdish enclave of Afrin, in northwestern Syria.
The US-led coalition, however, acknowledged Turkey’s vocal opposition to the training. “We are keenly aware of the legitimate security concerns of Turkey, a member of the Global Coalition and a NATO ally.”
Reports last week announced the formation of a new 30,000-strong “Border Security Force,” tasked with protecting Syria's mostly Kurdish-controlled eastern and northern borders with its neighbors, Iraq and Turkey respectively.
In response, the Turkish government deployed additional military reinforcements to the southern border and have been shelling the Afrin canton which it threatens to invade.
Criticizing the US for partnering with the YPG, labeled a terror group only by Turkey, Ankara also said it had expected its NATO ally to take back weapons and vehicles provided to the Kurdish-led forces.
“The war with [IS] on the ground has ended in Syria,” Turkey said in its call on the US to stop supporting the Kurds.
Doing his best to address Turkey’s fear, Tillerson said plans for the region "must not threaten any neighboring states."
On Wednesday, he nevertheless confirmed that American troops would remain in Syria long after the fight against IS ended, to ensure neither “Iran nor President Bashar al-Assad” could “take over areas newly liberated” by the coalition.
“We cannot allow history to repeat itself in Syria,” Tillerson said. Ultimately, the future of Syria must be determined by Syrians, the coalition maintains as the political in Syria shifts to a post-IS era.