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Coalition retraining 15,000 veteran SDF fighters to serve as Syrian border force

30,000-strong force to maintain security along Iraq, Turkey and internal borders

The U.S.-led Coalition against Islamic State is currently training a force to maintain security along the Syrian border as the operation against ISIS shifts focus. The 30,000-strong force will be partly composed of veteran fighters and operate under the leadership of the Syrian Democratic Forces, CJTF-OIR told The Defense Post.

“The Coalition is working jointly with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to establish and train the new Syrian Border Security Force (BSF). Currently, there are approximately 230 individuals training in the BSF’s inaugural class, with the goal of a final force size of approximately 30,000,” CJTF-OIR Public Affairs Officer Colonel Thomas F. Veale said.

“The base of the new force is essentially a realignment of approximately 15,000 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces to a new mission in the Border Security Force as their actions against ISIS draw to a close.”

The BSF will be stationed along the Euphrates River Valley – marking the western edge of the territory within Syria currently controlled by SDF – and the Iraqi and Turkish borders, he said.

On January 9, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported that the Pentagon and CIA were training a Kurdish force called the North Army. The foreign ministry summoned U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires Philip Kosnett, the top American diplomat in Turkey, on Wednesday, irate at the prospect of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) patrolling the Turkish border.

Turkey views the predominantly Kurdish YPG and its linked PYD political party as extensions of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency mainly in Turkey’s majority-Kurdish southwest. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, among others, but the YPG is not so designated by the U.S. or E.U.

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The Coalition told The Defense Post that “north army” was not a recognized term in Syria. However, the ethnic composition of the force will be relative to the areas in which it serves, with efforts taken to ensure that people serve close to their homes. This all but guarantees that Kurds, who make up a majority of the population in northeastern Syria, will be establishing checkpoints along the roughly 820-kilometer (510-mile) Syria-Turkey border.

Veale acknowledged that more Kurds will serve in the areas of northern Syria, while more Arabs will serve in areas along the Euphrates River Valley and along the border with Iraq.

The BSF will be comprised of approximately 15,000 veteran SDF fighters, and recruitment and training are already underway to fill the other 15,000 positions.

“Recruiting is being done in such a manner as to build a force reflecting the populations they serve; both in gender and ethnicity,” Veale said.

On December 22, U.S. Central Command commander Army General Joseph Votel said the U.S. was developing a training program for Kurdish and Arab border guards, shifting its focus to stabilizing areas recaptured from ISIS.

Votel said the training would include instruction in interrogation, screening and biometric scanning. Veale told The Defense Post that the BSF will receive training “specific to their mission and terrain,” and bring their own experiences and skills learned from fighting ISIS.

“These skills include the ability to establish and ethically administer checkpoints, conduct counter-IED operations, and strict adherence to the law of war,” he said.

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