Wednesday 19 December 2018

Turkey says US 'playing with fire' on plans to form Syria force

Yesterday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could barely contain his rage. “A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders,” he said in a speech in Ankara Photo: AP
Yesterday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could barely contain his rage. “A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders,” he said in a speech in Ankara Photo: AP

Suzan Fraser in Ankara

Turkey yesterday warned the US it was "playing with fire" over plans to set up a 30,000-strong force to police its border with Syria, saying it had tanks ready at the frontier.

The US announced plans on Sunday for a "border security force" - made up of Kurdish and Arab fighters - to prevent a resurgence by Isil. It will be tasked with securing Syria's northern border with Turkey and its eastern border with Iraq in areas that are under the fighters' control.

Ankara has repeatedly warned Washington over its support for the Syrian Kurdish People's Defence Units (YPG), which it sees as a terrorist group.

Yesterday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could barely contain his rage. "A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders," he said in a speech in Ankara.

"What can that terror army target but Turkey? Our mission is to strangle it before it's even born.

"Don't stand between us and this herd of murderers. Otherwise, we won't be responsible for the unwanted incidents that may arise."

Turkey has been threatening to launch a new military operation against the main Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People's Defence Units, or YPG, in the Kurdish-held Afrin enclave in northern Syria.

The YPG is the backbone of a Syrian force that drove Isil from much of northern and eastern Syria with the help of US-led airstrikes.

Russia has also warned that the nascent US force threatens to fuel tensions around Afrin.

The US-led coalition says the new force, expected to reach 30,000 in the next several years, is a key element of its strategy in Syria to prevent the resurgence of the Isil group in Syria.

"A strong border security force will prohibit [Isil] freedom of movement and deny the transportation of illicit materials," the coalition said. "This will enable the Syrian people to establish effective local, representative governance and reclaim their land."

The core of the force is to be made up of fighters from the existing Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, the coalition's ally in the fight against Isil.

Some 230 cadets have already been recruited to the new border force.

The force is expected to be deployed along the borders of the SDF-held areas and Iraq and Turkey.

Turkey sent troops into Syria in 2016 to prevent Syrian Kurdish fighters from forming a contiguous entity along its border.

It has also supported rival Syrian rebels and independently fought to drive Isil from parts of Syria.

Irish Independent

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