As we see the Islamic State‘s caliphate collapsing in the Middle East, the US-led coalition is planning to improve border security in northern Syria. The plan as of now is to equip the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) for this role, a Kurdish-led umbrella force for an alliance of sub groups in the region. Because the coalition is moving in the direction the Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Turkey, and Russia have all been vehemently in opposition of the plan. A spokesperson for the coalition, Col. Ryan Dillon stated, “There is a goal of a final force of approximately 30,000,” adding that nearly half would consist of currently serving SDF soldiers and that the remaining numbers were still being recruited.
After the announcement the Foreign Ministry of Syria responded by saying that the move was, “blatant aggression against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and flagrant violation of international law.”
Russia, who is a strategic ally of the Assad regime, alleged that standing up a border force was done in an attempt to divide the country; one that is already split by vastly differing factions. The Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergey Lavrov made a press release stating, “The actions, we can see now, demonstrate that the United States does not want to keep territorially integrated Syria.”
Lavrov also made the Russian government‘s concerns over the ethnic/national make-up of the new border force apparent, “Those territories now are controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, but mutual relations there between the Kurds and the Arabs are very complicated,” and, “The statements that zone would be controlled by groups, led by the US, and they may be up to 30,000, is a very serious matter, which causes fears about the aspirations to split Syria.”
Turkey and its government views the SDF as a threat to Turkish national security and has adamantly condemned the border force while expressing its displeasure with the United States for supporting them. The Turkish Foreign Ministry declared that the, “US commitments and statements, endanger Turkey’s national security and the territorial integrity of Syria, and are totally unacceptable.” President Erdogan has threatened to, “nip this terror army in the bud,” and followed with, “Do not stand between us and the terrorists.” He demanded that the United States lower its flags, “from above the terrorists so that we are not forced to return them to you,” in a direct threat to the U.S. military forces embedded with the SDF.
Turkey has since built up its military forces on the border of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) where they bombarded Kurdish forces with artillery and air support over the course of this past weekend and have made very real threats of launching a full-scale offensive on Afrin and Manbij. President Erdogan declared, “Preparations are done. The movement may begin at any time. After that it is the turn of other regions,” and, “These operations will continue until there is not a single terrorist — not just 30,000 — on our borders.”
The Syrian Democratic Forces have control over around a quarter of Syrian territory to date, all of it gained during the push to eliminate the Islamic State. The Border Security Force (BSF) would eventually be tasked with the security of Rojava’s border with Turkey, Iraq, and along the SDF-controlled portions of the Euphrates River. The Euphrates currently serves as an unofficial border for the SDF and Syrian Army.
Spokesperson Col. Dillon commented that the “inaugural class” was in training currently and that, “There are approximately 230 individuals that are training right now in the border security force.” He added that the SDF was already in coordination with existing Iraqi Security Forces in an attempt to halt any “transient movement” of Islamic State fighters between their respective borders.
The SDF declared the Syrian city of Raqqa liberated from Islamic State control on October 20th of 2017. They continue to clash with IS fighters in the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor. Shortly after the fighting in Raqqa concluded, the Bashur al-Assad regime declared that all Syrian lands would return to its control, further complicating the situation the SDF is currently facing.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia