Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to start a military operation in the northern Syrian region of Afrin, which is controlled by Kurdish-led militias, after a new border force trained by the US-led coalition was announced.
The new Syrian Border Security Force (BSF) is currently being trained by a joint effort between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), established and led by the United States to destroy the Islamic State (IS).
"There are approximately 230 individuals training in the BSF's inaugural class, with the goal of a final force size of approximately 30,000," said Colonel Thomas F Veale, public affairs officer of the CJTF-OIR.
The move has angered Erdogan and the Turkish government: the US-allied SDF are mainly composed of Kurdish militias, such as the People's Protection Units (YPG), which they consider the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The PKK is an armed organization in southeastern Turkey fighting for autonomy and recognition of the Kurdish people.
The SDF have played a key role in defeating the IS, for which they have been backed by the United States with air-strikes, weapons and military intelligence. The SDF includes various Kurdish, Syriac, Arab and other minority militias within its ranks.
The Turkish government has warned the United States, declaring its intention to attack Afrin, controlled by the SDF, if the United States continues to support such "terrorist" organizations.
The Turkish National Security Council (MGK) said Wednesday that Turkish authorities won't allow formation of the BSF "terrorist army" along Turkish borders, branding it a threat to citizens.
The MGK is also demanding that all weapons given to Kurdish militias in northern Syria be surrendered, and is calling for an extension of the state of alert imposed since the coup attempt in 2016.
"In the case that Turkey's demands are not met, we will take determined steps in Afrin and other regions to protect our interests," said Deputy Prime Minister and Government Spokesman Bekir Bozdag after a cabinet meeting.
"We will take these steps without considering what anyone can say. When will this happen? Suddenly."
The SDF has long been supported by a US-led coallition. However, in a state of war, strategic alliances constantly change according to new objectives.
US Army Colonel Ryan Dillon reportedly told Anadolu, the Turkish state news agency, that the coalition is "not operating in Afrin" and that their mission "has not changed: to defeat IS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and set conditions for follow-on operations to increase regional stability." Similar declarations have been made by more than one US military source.
This, according to Nicholas Heras, Middle East Security Fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, suggests that the United States now considers Afrin a Russian, Iranian and Turkish problem.
Afrin had already been threatened by Turkey last year, but that was a different time. Back then, the US-led coalition supported the SDF: their interest was to keep them focused on Raqqa, which they liberated from the IS in October.
Today, Afrin is no longer considered part of the "defeat IS" operation, according to Adrian Rankine-Galloway, spokesman of the US Defense Department.
"We're not involved with them at all," Rankine-Galloway told Anadolu. Now, SDF operations are only supported in Deir ez-Zour, where they continue fighting the IS.
Yesterday Turkey moved 10 tanks to its border with the Syrian canton of Afrin. The Council of Efrin denounced shelling coming from the Turkish border and Turkish forces in the Syrian region of Idlib into their villages.
They are now calling on international institutions and human rights organizations to help "restraining the Turkish state from attacking civilians and destroying security in the region."
The Democratic Union Party (PYD), the YPG's political branch, is also calling on the international community "to take responsibility towards more than a million people living in Afrin," declaring that the Turkish government "has become a threat to any solution to the Syrian crisis."
The BSF will recruit about 15,000 former SDF fighters and train another 15,000 elements. The ethnic composition of the force depends on the areaa it will serve.
According to Colonel Veale, more Kurds will serve in northern Syria, while more Arabs will do so along the Euphrates River and the border with Iraq. Gender equality will also be taken into account.