Tillerson denies United States plans to form Syria border force

Alfred Osborne
January 21, 2018

Turkey has asked Russia's permission to begin an air-campaign in Syria's Afrin region.

Turkey has ramped up its rhetoric to threaten an imminent cross-border incursion against Kurdish militia in Syria but the attitude of Russian Federation and to a lesser extent the United States will determine the nature of the operation, analysts say.

Turkey has meanwhile dispatched tanks and troops to the Syrian border, where they appear poised to launch an attack on a Kurdish-controlled enclave outside an area where the United States maintains troops.

The border force will include fighters from the USA -backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which have been instrumental in fighting ISIL, and it will be charged with securing Syria's northern border with Turkey and eastern border with Iraq.

"We are carrying out this operation from land and air", Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told broadcaster NTV. The US State Department called on Turkey to focus on the fight against Islamic State militants and not take military action in Afrin.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday the "entire situation has been mis-portrayed, mis-described, some people misspoke".

Turkey has long protested the USA support for the PYD/PKK terror group, while Washington has brushed off these criticisms, saying it needs the terror group's help to fight Daesh in Syria.

The PKK is classified as a terrorist organization by the USA and European Union, as well as Turkey.

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Iran also joined Turkey in hitting out at the proposed plans, saying that it will only cause more instability and "add flames of fire" in an already war-torn country.

The force, whose inaugural class is now being trained, will be deployed at the borders of the area controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up mostly of People's Protection Units (YPG) militants, which Ankara regards as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

"This is not a new "army" or conventional "border guard" force", the statement said.

The Turkish news agency Anadolu reported that Russian forces were leaving the area and that the Turkish army's chief of staff, Hulusi Akar, met with senior Russian defense officials in Moscow on Thursday to seek Russia's support.

"We are notifying Damascus of our operation in the written form", he was quoted as saying by the Turkish daily Yeni Safak.

Assad's ally Russian Federation called the plans a plot to dismember Syria and place part of it under United States control.

He said the United States aims to provide training to local elements in Syria - not create a new border security force. Russia's foreign ministry said it's treating the developments with "concern".

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