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US-led coalition to build 30,000-strong border force in Syria

Turkey considers swathes of SDF forces to be 'terrorists' (Getty)

Date of publication: 15 January, 2018

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The US-led coalition will create a force of tens of thousands on Turkey's border, saying the focus of the coalition has shifted towards border security.
The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group said on Sunday it was working to create a 30,000-strong border security force in northern Syria.

The announcement drew sharp condemnation from Turkey due to the large Kurdish contingent in the planned border force.

The Syrian Democratic Forces alliance is a US-backed force that has led the war against the Islamic State group in Syria.

With the militants almost completely defeated, the Kurdish-led force and Washington are beginning to shift their focus to border security, US-led coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon told AFP.

"There is a goal of a final force of approximately 30,000," about half of whom would be retrained SDF fighters, he said.

"There are approximately 230 individuals that are training right now in the border security force. That's an inaugural class," Dillon said.

Backed by the US-led coalition's air strikes, special forces advisers, and weapons, the SDF has ousted IS from swathes of north-eastern Syria.

Its Kurdish and Arab members now control territory bordering Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east and Syrian government forces to the west.

Turkey reacted sharply to news of the border force on Sunday, saying it would "legitimise a terror organisation".

Ankara is fiercely opposed to the SDF, which is dominated by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) - considered by the Turkish government to be a "terrorist" group.
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"Rather than end its support to the PYD-YPG, these steps taken to legitimise a terror organisation and to make it permanent in the region are worrying," said Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"Accepting this state of affairs is absolutely not possible," Kalin added.

Top SDF media official Mustefa Bali confirmed the creation of the border force, and said training had already begun.

"We are transitioning to a new phase of coordination between us and the international coalition," Bali told AFP.

"The wide areas and cities that were liberated need someone to protect them."

Bali said the new units would be deployed along the Turkish border and adjacent to territory held by Syrian troops, but did not immediately respond to a question on rules of engagement in those areas.

Turkey has often targeted YPG positions in northern Syria and on Sunday, Erdogan threatened to attack the Kurdish-held area of Afrin in northern Syria "in the days ahead".

The SDF's relationship with regime forces is less tense.

Since last year, a "de-confliction line" cutting diagonally across eastern Syria has largely kept the two forces from clashing.

The Syrian regime "strongly condemned" the announcement and described the move as a "blatant breach of Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity".

"The ministry considered any Syrian citizen who takes part in the US-backed militia as a traitor to the Syrian state and people and will be treated as one," the foreign ministry said, according to SANA.



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