The U.S.-led coalition continues to train the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria, an umbrella organization predominantly led by the PKK's Syrian wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), despite Ankara criticizing the plan many times due to national security concerns.
The coalition's deputy commander, British Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika of Operation Inherent Resolve, said Tuesday that the U.S.-led coalition had already trained between 10,000 to 20,000 SDF forces in northeastern Syria under the pretext of defeating Daesh, adding that the number is expected to grow further.
The U.S. has supported the 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.
"We are wholly committed to supporting the SDF as they move into this phase, so that in partnership we can counter this threat from Daesh," Ghika said in a news conference at the Pentagon.
Ghika did not reveal further details, but said the goal is to reach 40,000 SDF forces in northeast Syria.
In January 2018, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced plans to establish a 30,000-strong border security force in northern Syria with the SDF, a move that was slammed by Turkish officials due to Ankara's national security concerns. Despite U.S. officials initially denying the establishment of such a "border force," reports confirmed Washington continues training SDF militants. In the Pentagon's budget plan for 2020, $300 million was allocated for the training-and-equipping of the YPG and another $250 million to support the border security of the countries neighboring Syria. Responding to questions on growing protests against the YPG in Arab-dominated provinces of Syria, Ghika said the coalition is monitoring the demonstrations, adding that YPG militants came together with protesters in Ayn Isa to defuse tensions. He also denied claims pointing to the ethnic aspect of the protests, saying that people's frustration stems from living conditions.
Protests erupted late April in eastern Syria's Deir el-Zour, the largest oil-rich city in Syria, and turned into huge demonstrations in the first days of May and spread in more than a dozen villages. Locals, including Arab tribes, complain about atrocities, compulsory conscription of young men to the ranks of the organization and the smuggling of petrol out of the city, while demanding better services, jobs and a bigger role in decision-making. People suffer from a lack of services, rising crime, fuel shortages and anger over what they see as growing Kurdish influence.
Deir el-Zour is not the only province where unrest occurred. Last year, huge protests took place in Manbij against the city's SDF administration when mangled bodies of two Arab residents belonging to the prominent al-Boubanna tribe were found outside the city. In December, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a withdrawal from Syria but later was persuaded to leave some 2,000 troops in the country. Since then, Turkish and U.S. officials held several meetings to discuss establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria without any YPG presence.
A recent report of the Turkey-based think tank, the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), suggested that Washington could recover Turkey's alliance in Syria, which it pushed toward Russia and Iran with its "false policies," by taking steps toward a safe zone plan. The report added that Washington's decision to stay in Syria to encircle Iran is not a "rational policy."