Iran has condemned the U.S. plan to create a 30,000-strong force inside Syria to protect territory held by the Kurdish-Arab coalition that helped oust the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) from most of northeastern Syria.
The U.S.-led coalition worked with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia and Arab militiamen, to defeat ISIS in Raqqa.
Now, Washington is working with the SDF to create the force to secure territory along the northern Syrian border in Turkey.
Every state actor involved in the Syrian conflict bar the U.S. has moved to denounce the plan.
“The U.S. announcement of a new border force in Syria is an obvious interference in the internal affairs of this country,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA. He said all U.S. forces should leave the country.
“It is a clear intervention of [the] U.S. in internal affairs of other countries and makes [the] Syrian crisis more complicated, creates more instability and fans the flames in this country,” Qasemi added.
Russia, too, said the U.S. move was unilateral and risked further conflict in the country ravaged by war between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, moderate rebels and jihadi factions.
Iran and Russia both have a presence in Syria at the request of the Syrian government. Both Tehran and Moscow say their boots on the ground are legitimate because of the request from a sovereign state actor, whereas the U.S. has not received permission from Damascus.
The U.S. has several thousand troops operating in Syria, and with ISIS’s loss of the majority of its territory in the country, Ankara had hoped that Washington would pull its support for the Syrian Kurds, which it had armed in the fight against ISIS.
Turkey has condemned the force outright, with the plan dealing a blow to relations between the NATO allies. “A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an Ankara speech on Monday.
“What can that terror army target but Turkey? Our mission is to strangle it before it’s even born.”
He told the U.S. to “take your insignia off the uniforms of terrorists so we do not have to bury them in the ground with the terrorists.”
The Turkish government views the Syrian Kurds and their militia, known as the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, as an extremist organization. It alleges that the PYD has ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state. Turkey designates the group as an extremist Kurdish faction.
Turkey seeks to prevent a contiguous Kurdish state along its southern border for security reasons. So the news of a 30,000-strong military border force angered Erdogan and preparations for a military incursion into northern Syria are already “complete,” he said.
The Syrian government said 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.”