Report: Turkey angered by US-led coalition setting up Syrian border force

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A convoy of US forces armoured vehicles drives near the village of Yalanli, on the western outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Manbij, on March 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN

The US-led Global Coalition To Defeat ISIS is working with its Syrian militia allies to set up a new border force of 30,000 personnel, the coalition said on Sunday, a move that has added to Turkish displeasure over US support for Kurdish-dominated forces in Syria, Reuters reported on Sunday.

A senior Turkish official told Reuters the US training of the new “Border Security Force” (BSF) was the reason US Chargé d‘Affaires Philip Kosnett was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara last week.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesman said the development was worrying and unacceptable.

The force, whose inaugural class is currently being trained, will be deployed at the borders of the area controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of militias in northern and eastern Syria dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

In an email to Reuters, the coalition’s Public Affairs Office confirmed details of the new force as reported by The Defense Post. About half the force will be SDF veterans, and recruiting for the other half is under way, the Public Affairs Office said.

The force will deploy along the border with Turkey to the north, the Iraqi border to the southeast and along the Euphrates River Valley, which broadly acts as the dividing line separating the US-backed SDF and Syrian government forces backed by Iran and Russia, Reuters said.

US support for the SDF has put enormous strain on ties with NATO ally Turkey, which views the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that has been involved in a three-decade-long conflict with the Turkish government and has been designated a terrorist group by the European Union, Turkey and the United States.

Erdoğan’s spokesman İbrahim Kalın said that Washington “is taking worrying steps to legitimize this organization and make it lasting in the region.”

“It is absolutely not possible for this to be accepted,” he said, adding that Turkey “will continue its fight against any terrorist organization regardless of its name and shape within and outside its borders.”

Syria’s main Kurdish groups have emerged as one of the few winners of the Syrian war and are working to entrench their autonomy over large parts of northern Syria.

Washington opposes those autonomy plans, even as it has backed the SDF, the main partner for the US-led Global Coalition To Defeat ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

The coalition said the BSF would operate under SDF command and that about 230 individuals were currently undergoing training in its inaugural class.

”Efforts are taken to ensure individuals serve in areas close to their homes. Therefore, the ethnic composition of the force will be relative to the areas in which they serve.

“More Kurds will serve in the areas in northern Syria. More Arabs will serve in areas along the Euphrates River Valley and along the border with Iraq to the south,” the coalition’s Public Affairs Office said.

“The base of the new force is essentially a realignment of approximately 15,000 members of the SDF to a new mission in the Border Security Force as their actions against ISIS draw to a close,” it said.

“They will be providing border security through professionally securing checkpoints and conducting counter-IED operations,” it said, adding that coalition and SDF forces were still engaging Islamic State pockets in Deir al-Zor province.

The United States has about 2,000 troops in Syria fighting ISIS and has said it is prepared to stay in the country until it is certain ISIS is defeated, that stabilization efforts can be sustained and there is meaningful progress in UN-led peace talks on ending the conflict.

The Syrian government in Damascus has declared the United States an illegal occupation force and its SDF allies as “traitors.” A top Syrian Kurdish politician told Reuters last week that the United States appeared to be in no hurry to leave Syria.

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