The U.S. military is training Kurdish recruits in Syria near the Turkish border as part of a planned force of 30,000 to secure Syria’s borders with Turkey and Iraq.
The coalition led by the U.S. confirmed Sunday that training is underway, and the force is expected to draw heavily from Kurds in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Washington Post reports. The prospect of a primarily Kurdish force near the southern border has Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan incensed.
It is the Turkish government’s duty "to drown this terrorist force before it is born," Erdogan said in a speech Monday.
"If we are strategic partners then you must carry this out with us," Erdogan said, according to the Anadolu news agency.
The Turkish government has battled with a Kurdish group within its own borders for many years and is opposing Kurdish advancement in the region.
The U.S. appears to view cooperation with these Kurdish forces as a key part of maintaining influence Iraq and Syria without deploying a large number of ground forces. The U.S. has cooperated with the SDF in the fight against ISIS, including by providing them with weapons.
"The U.S. military, whether the commander in chief was Obama or now Trump, wants to accomplish this job with as light a U.S. troop presence as possible," the Center for a New American Security’s Nicholas Heras said.
"The Trump team views Syria as irresistibly fragmented, as a fact and the result of the nature of the Syrian civil war, and President Trump is now responsible for the U.S. zone of influence," he said.
The coalition told Reuters that recruits would operate under SDF command and its first class of recruits totals about 230.
Turkey has focused on preventing Kurds from controlling more territory beyond its border, and Erdogan said Monday that Turkish forces fired shells toward Kurdish positions Sunday. He blamed the aggression he anticipated from the Kurds.
"We are already shooting with howitzers, and we will continue to shoot. Are we going to retreat into our shell and wait for you to hit us?" Erdogan said.