US move to train forces in Syria angers Turkey, Russia and Assad

Erstwhile allies in the anti-ISIS coalition are now at loggerheads over the US plan to help Kurdish allies in northern Syria by training a new border force.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The United States has put very few boots on the ground throughout the seven-year insurgency in Syria, with only about 2,000 troops there at the moment. The war has seen a fragmentation of the forces that began by fighting against President Bashar al-Assad and ended up warring against each other as well. However, the US has consistently tried to back various groups that fought against ISIS, the extremist Sunni organization that wanted to set up an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria before going on to conquer the rest of the world.

If measured by the ability to hold onto territory gained, one of the most successful of these groups has been the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of militias in northern and eastern Syria dominated by the Kurdish YPG. By mainly concentrating on eliminating ISIS, they have basically been left alone by the Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian forces, with the idea that – at least temporarily – “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Now, however, this may change, as ISIS has been effectively defeated and the Americans are setting up a 30,000-strong Border Security Force, which will deploy along the informal boundaries of SDF’s territory, Reuters reported. This means Turkey in the north, the Iraqi border to the southeast, and along the Euphrates River Valley, which basically separates the SDF from Assad’s men.

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As reported by Reuters, Damascus denounced the new border force as a “blatant assault” on its sovereignty, Syrian state media said, adding that any Syrian who joined the force would be deemed “a traitor.”

Syria’s Russian allies were also quick to condemn the move. “The actions that we see now show that the United States does not want to maintain the territorial integrity of Syria,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “Fundamentally, this means the breakup of a large territory along the border with Turkey and Iraq.”

Erdogan threatens to ‘strangle’ US force

Turkish President Erdogan, meanwhile, reacted in almost hysterical terms, threatening on Monday to “strangle” the US-backed force “before it’s even born.”

Relations between the United States and its supposed NATO allies have been on a steady decline for years over differences regarding Syria, Israel, and other matters, but perhaps most importantly, the Kurds.

While the US has allied with Kurds in both Iraq and Syria, as they have been at the forefront of fighting America’s Islamic Enemy #1 (ISIS), Turkey views the Kurdish forces as a national security threat, the Reuters report noted. Ankara says that the Syrian Kurds are allies of the PKK, a Kurdish group that has been trying to gain independence from Turkey for decades and which the government has declared a terrorist organization. Having the SDF as a secure entity on its border, therefore, is a nonstarter for Erdogan, so it is safe to say that the war of words has only just begun.