United States “playing with fire” in setting up Syrian border force, Turkey says

Turkey’s president

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president

Turkey on Monday said the U.S. is “playing with fire” by setting up a Syrian border security force including Kurdish militia forces.

The U.S.-led coalition said on Sunday that it was working with its Syrian militia allies to set up a new border force of 30,000 personnel.

The move has added to Turkish anger over U.S. support for Kurdish-dominated forces in Syria.

Turkey regards the Kurdish YPG militia, which will form part of this force, as a terrorist group.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said that Washington “is taking worrying steps to legitimise this organisation and make it lasting in the region”.

“It is absolutely not possible for this to be accepted; Turkey will continue its fight against any terrorist organisation regardless of its name and shape within and outside its borders”.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the U.S. training of the new “Border Security Force” was the reason the U.S. charge d‘affaires was summoned in Ankara while President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said the development was unacceptable.

The force 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 YPG.

In an email to Reuters, the coalition’s Public Affairs Office confirmed details of the new force 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 U.S.-backed SDF and Syrian government forces backed by Iran and Russia.

U.S. support for the SDF has put enormous strain on ties with NATO ally Turkey, which views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The group has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey and is considered a terrorist group by the European Union, Turkey and the U.S.

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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 U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria.

The coalition said the BSF would operate under SDF command and 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.

It said that 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.

“They will be providing border security through professionally securing checkpoints and conducting counter-improvised explosive device operations.

“The coalition and SDF forces were still engaging Islamic State pockets in Deir al-Zor province,’’ the U.S.-led coalition said.

The U.S. has about 2,000 troops in Syria fighting Islamic State and has said it is prepared to stay in the country until it is certain that the Islamic State is defeated.

It said that those stabilisation efforts can be sustained and that there is meaningful progress in U.N.-led peace talks on ending the conflict.

The Syrian government in Damascus has declared the U.S. an illegal occupation force and its SDF allies as “traitors”.

A top Syrian Kurdish politician said that the U.S. appeared in no hurry to leave Syria.