Pentagon confirms US training of YPG border force

DAILY SABAH WITH ANADOLU AGENCY
ISTANBUL
Published

A report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is predominantly led by the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG), continues to get training to form a border force on the Turkish-Syrian border despite repeated denials from the Pentagon.

"The SDF [YPG/PKK] were beginning to train internal security forces, border security forces, and explosive hazard reduction specialists and have drawn up plans to restructure their counterterrorism forces," according to the quarterly Lead Inspector General report to Congress.

The report also indicated that the U.S.-led Coalition has trained more than 11,000 SDF members out of a total of 12,500 members of "Syrian opposition groups" since late 2016.

The U.S. has supported the PKK's Syrian affiliate the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed YPG under the name of the SDF, which is considered by Ankara to be the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terrorist organization that has waged a more than 30-year brutal war against the Turkish state.

American support for the terrorist organization has long vexed Ankara as Washington views the SDF as a "reliable partner" in its fight against Daesh and continues to provide it with arms and equipment in the face of strong objections by Turkey.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said yesterday that one-sided actions, such as establishing a border security force, is against the spirit of a coalition since in the fight against Daesh, the main thing is to have a unity over an aim and joint common action. Speaking at the Foreign Ministers meeting of the international coalition for the fight against Daesh, Çavuşoğlu repeated Turkey's contributions to the fight against terrorism and the expectations of Turkey for the international community in fight against Daesh, the YPG and PKK. He further said that Daesh, which has been losing the battle, changed its tactics and made cooperation with other terrorist organizations, as can be seen clearly in Afrin.

In January, CENTCOM announced plans to establish a 30,000-strong border security force in northern Syria with the SDF, a move which was scolded by Turkish officials due to Ankara's national security concerns. Despite U.S. officials denying the establishment of such a "border force," the Pentagon's report confirmed Turkey's concerns.

Besides the training to be given to the SDF, the report said the U.S. continued to equip the group but had taken measures to track the transfer of equipment allocated for the YPG in particular to try to ensure that material provided to the YPG is used for its intended purposes.

Stating that the SDF was also trained for providing security in areas that were seized from Daesh, the report added there are more than 3,000 trained SDF members in Syria's city of Raqqa.

The U.S.-led coalition, officially known as the Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), last month said it was creating a 30,000-strong border security force in northern Syria along Turkey's border.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon's 2019 budget will include $300 million for the train-and-equip program for the SDF and $250 million for building a "border security force" in Syria, the U.S. government unveiled Monday.

The money allocated for the SDF's training is part of the spending on border security requirement for anti-Daesh missions.

The U.S. relies on the YPG to fight against Daesh on the ground, while Ankara argues that one terrorist group cannot be used to fight another.

The budget bill includes huge spending increases for the military: The Pentagon will get $94 billion more this budget year than the last - a 15.5 percent jump. It's the biggest year-over-year windfall since the budget soared by 26.6 percent, from $345 billion in 2002 to $437 billion the year after, when the nation was fighting in Afghanistan, invading Iraq and expanding national defense after the 9/11 attacks.

The Pentagon requested $597 billion to cover its annual budget, plus $89 billion to fund ongoing wars. Funds for the maintenance of the U.S. nuclear arsenal also increased.

The 2019 budget documents specifically highlighted "reversing the erosion of the U.S. military advantage in relation to China and Russia," which was a focal point of the National Defense Strategy unveiled by Defense Secretary James Mattis released in January.

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