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Turkey's President Assails U.S.-Trained Kurdish Border Force
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey lashed out on Monday against a proposed American-trained force that would potentially position thousands of Kurdish militia fighters along Turkey's southern border.
The allied military headquarters in Baghdad that is leading the fight against the Islamic State in Syria said Sunday that it had started recruiting and retraining members of a Syrian Kurdish and Arab militia to protect the borders of territory captured by the group. The militia, the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces or S.D.F., currently controls a large swath of northeastern Syria.
The Trump administration has said it would gradually scale back its military assistance to the Kurds as major combat winds down. The proposed border force appears to signal how the Pentagon would support its Kurdish proxies in the longer term in Syria.
Over several years, the new border force could grow to 30,000 members, the headquarters said in an email.
American commanders consider the Kurdish fighters the most capable of the S.D.F., and of any future border-security force, but Turkey views the Syrian Kurds as terrorists. The new plan threatens to escalate tensions between the United States and Turkey – two NATO allies – that were papered over during the offensive last year to seize Raqqa, which had been the Islamic State's self-proclaimed capital in Syria.
"The U.S. has now acknowledged that it has established a terror army along our borders," Mr. Erdogan said in a tweet on Monday. "Our duty, in return, is to nip this terror army in the bud."
The Turkish president's comments came as he has been threatening to attack other Kurdish fighters in Afrin, an enclave in Idlib in northwest Syria near Turkey's border. The area is Kurdish-held but not contiguous with the Kurds' main territory in northeast Syria. Heavy Turkish artillery shelling has targeted Kurdish positions in Afrin in recent days.
All this is unfolding as the Syrian military, backed by Russia, is intensifying its assault on Idlib, the last remaining redoubt of rebels opposed to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Many people have migrated there from other surrendering rebel areas around Syria.
The proposed border security force adds a new dimension to this highly combustible mixture, and drew sharp criticism from the Turkish government.
"Turkey, as a member of the coalition, was not consulted with regard to the establishment of the so-called 'Syrian Border Security Force,'" according to a statement issued on Sunday from the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
The statement added that such a force would hamper efforts to wipe out the last remaining pockets of Islamic State fighters along the Euphrates River Valley near the border of Iraq and Syria, as well as in the deserts of western Iraq and eastern Syria.
The American military command in Baghdad, which oversees allied operations in eastern Syria against the Islamic State, sought to portray the new border force as no big deal.
It said the new force would essentially repurpose as many as 15,000 of the more than 40,000 members of the S.D.F. to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State. About 230 militia in the first class of recruits are currently undergoing training.
"These individuals will bring much-needed experience and discipline to the force," the American military command said in the email, adding that recruiting is underway to fill an additional 15,000 positions, for an eventual total of 30,000 members.
The American command said the force would be drawn from "a force reflecting the populations they serve, both in gender and ethnicity" – an effort to deflect Turkish criticism that the border patrol would be dominated by Kurdish militia.
The new border force will be stationed along the borders of areas now controlled by the S.D.F., including "portions of the Euphrates River valley and international borders to the east and north of S.D.F.-liberated territory" – meaning Iraq and Turkey, the command said.
[Source: By Eric Schmitt, The New York Times, Washington, 15Jan18]
War in Syria
|This document has been published on 18Jan18 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|