Turkish president says it is his duty to ‘drown’ 30,000-strong force as Trump administration is told it is playing with fire
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has accused the US of forming a “terrorist army” that it was Turkey’s duty to “drown”, after Washington announced plans for a 30,000-strong force inside Syria to protect territory held by its mainly Kurdish allies.
On Sunday, the US-led coalition said it was working with its Syrian militia allies, the mainly Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to set up the new border force. The force would operate along the borders with Turkey and Iraq, as well as within Syria along the Euphrates river, which separates most SDF territory from that held by the government. The announcement was one of the few insights into the Trump administration’s longer-term thinking for Syria.
The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish YPG, and the plan for the force dashes Turkish hopes that the US would abandon the YPG once the war against Islamic State came to an end. Turkey regards the Kurdish YPG militia as indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) operating inside Turkey, which it regards as a terror group.
Erdoğan said it was his government’s “duty is to drown this terrorist force before it is born”. The deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdağ, earlier said the US border force plan was playing with fire, and had not been the subject of consultation with other national forces in the coalition fighting Isis.
Russia also opposed the plan, saying it could lead to the partitioning of Syria. For its part, the Syrian regime vowed to win back control of the entire country, including by removing any form of US-backed Syrian Kurdish force. The US plan was a blatant attack on Syrian sovereignty, Syria said.
Relations between Turkey and the US have unravelled in recent weeks, partly due to rows over the president’s planned visa restrictions. Turkey is also angry at the support the US continues to provide to the Syrian Kurdish forces that formed the backbone of the SDS, which led the military assault on Islamic State troops based in Raqqa.
Turkey, a Nato member, said it would shortly mount an assault on the Kurdish-held Syrian town of Afrin, close to the Turkish border.
The Syrian government warned it “considers any Syrian who participates in these militias sponsored by the Americans as a traitor to their people and nation, and will deal with them on this basis”.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, giving his annual foreign policy press conference, described the US move as provocative and unilateral.
Russia and Iran, at the invitation of the Syrian government, are planning to keep forces inside Syria once the conflict ends. The planned border force may be seen as a bargaining chip, showing the US also has a stake in Syria’s future, including a tool with which to press Russia to negotiate on Assad’s future.
The US has about 2,000 troops in Syria and has said they will stay in the country until it is certain Islamic State is defeated, and progress is made in UN-led peace talks in Geneva on ending the conflict. The US is frustrated Russia has not put pressure on the regime of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to negotiate at Geneva, but instead is pressing ahead with its own peace talks, the Syrian national dialogue congress scheduled this month at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.