US insists it’s not forming new ‘army’ in Syria

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The United States is training a new force in Syria but insisted on Wednesday it does not intend to create an “army” or conventional border guards following criticism of the plan.

Both Ankara and the main Syrian opposition group have condemned the US-led coalition’s plan to create a 30 000-strong border force on Syria’s northern frontier with Turkey, about half of whom would be from the Kurdish-majority Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The Pentagon says the force is aimed at fighters from the Islamic State (IS) group and maintaining stability in areas recaptured from the jihadists.

“This is not a new ‘army’ or conventional ‘border guard’ force,” according to a statement from the Pentagon that said the US “continues to train local security forces in Syria”.

“These security forces are internally-focused to prevent (IS) fighters from fleeing Syria and augment local security in liberated areas,” it said.

Colonel Ryan Dillon, the spokesperson for the US-led coalition against IS, announced the border force plan on Sunday, saying the final goal was for it to number 30 000 fighters.

The proposed force has been denounced by Damascus, while Turkey — which considers the members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), who make up the main element of the SDF, to be “terrorists” — has vowed to nip it “in the bud”.

Ankara accuses the YPG of being a branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged an insurgency in Turkey since 1984.

The exiled Syrian National Council opposition group also condemned the “US plan for a border force” and said “it was unacceptable” for areas liberated from IS to fall under Kurdish control.