US welcomes Danish commitment to Syrian forces, as Danes pledge support to NATO efforts

Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman hailed Denmark’s statement on Friday that it will contribute personnel to the US led contingent in northeast Syria.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) — Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman hailed Denmark’s statement on Friday that it will contribute personnel to the US led contingent in northeast Syria.

“The United States welcomes the announcement by the Danish Government to make a military deployment to Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve,” Hoffman said, “and to continue to share the burden and responsibilities of this important mission.”

As Hoffman noted, Denmark was “a founding member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS,” when it was established in 2014, as the terrorist organization suddenly emerged, occupying nearly one-third of Iraq.

“Our Danish partners will work with the residual US military force in northeast Syria to support stability and security,” he added.

Hoffman made a point of noting the key role of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), America’s main partner in the fight against the so-called Islamic State in Syria.

“This deployment demonstrates Denmark’s continued commitment to working with our partners, to include the SDF, to ensure ISIS cannot re-emerge,” he affirmed.

The Danish commitment comes as the US and Turkey continue to try to work out arrangements for what the US calls a “security mechanism” in northeast Syria, while Turkey refers to it as a “safe zone” or “peace corridor.” 

Read More: US and Turkey make third joint flight over northeastern Syria: EUCOM 

Acrimony persists, because Turkey considers the SDF’s Kurdish element—the People’s Protection Units (YPG)—as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the US and Europe consider a terrorist organization.

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Ankara would apply its own plan for northeast Syria, if it did not receive satisfaction in its discussions with the US by the end of September.

Erdogan also affirmed his intent to move one million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey into the region—which would dramatically change its demographics.

The Danish deployment to northeast Syria, as it was announced by Danish officials, will be relatively modest: a 14-man medical team.

Col. Norvell DeAtkine (US, Army, Retired), a Middle East expert, who long taught about the region at Ft. Bragg, advised Kurdistan 24 that its main significance appeared to be political: “a European country supporting the US, as we cut back our forces there.” Danish authorities also announced other increases in their country’s contributions to the collective defense, as the Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and Foreign Minister held a major press conference on Friday.

Defense Minister Trine Bramsen explained that Denmark would provide NATO with a combat battalion of some 700 troops, a frigate, and four fighter jets. It will also contribute a second frigate to a US aircraft carrier group scheduled to sail in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean in early 2020.

“Denmark and the Danish defense have once again been asked to contribute to peace and stability in the world's hotspots,” Bramsen said. “I am very proud of that.”

Denmark will also provide forces and materiel to the fight against terrorism in Africa’s Sahel region, where France has assumed the lead.

In addition, Copenhagen is discussing with its European allies the “possibility of a Danish naval contribution to an international, European led effort” to ensure the safety of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen explained.

Following Iranian attacks on oil tankers in May, June, and July, the US developed an initiative to protect shipping there. Australia, Bahrain, and Britain have joined the US effort.

France has taken the lead in developing a separate, European effort, however. US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is in Paris on Saturday. Among the topics for discussion is coordination between the US and European initiatives.

“It is clear to this government that we need to pursue an active foreign policy,” Frederiksen affirmed on Friday. “We must carry it together with our strongest ally, the United States, with NATO, Europe, and the UN.”

The Trump administration has pressed its allies to assume more responsibility for the common defense. Denmark has pledged to increase its military spending to 1.5% of its gross domestic product in 2023, raising it from 1.35% in 2019, as Reuters reported. 

US President Donald Trump was supposed to visit Denmark earlier this month. However, in late August, in advance of his trip, he proposed that the US might purchase Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory.

Greenland is the world’s largest island, with a population of only 56,000. Global warming is causing Arctic ice to shrink, opening up new waterways for navigation and new territory for mineral exploitation, including in Greenland.

Danish officials responded with incredulity to Trump’s suggestion. Frederiksen called it “absurd,” and Trump, calling her comment “nasty” and “inappropriate,” abruptly canceled his trip.

However, the two subsequently spoke by phone. Trump then described Frederiksen as a “wonderful woman,” and US-Danish relations appear to have been quickly mended.

On Friday, Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II affirmed that Trump’s invitation to visit her country still stands.