Tillerson Denies Syria Border Force 01/18 06:06
PALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday
the United States owes Turkey an explanation for saying it is supporting the
creation of a border security force in northern Syria --- a proposal that has
drawn furious reaction from Ankara.
Tillerson told reporters "that entire situation has been mis-portrayed,
mis-described, some people misspoke. We are not creating a border security
force at all."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday vowed to "drown this army
of terror before it is born." He warned U.S. troops against coming between
Turkish troops and the Kurdish forces in Syria that Ankara views as an
extension of Turkey's own Kurdish insurgency.
The top U.S. diplomat said he had a brief meeting Tuesday with his Turkish
counterpart on the sidelines of a meeting of American allies in Canada on North
Korea policy. He clarified America's intentions, which he said were to provide
training to local elements in areas liberated from the Islamic State group.
"We have ISIS still attacking in parts of northwest Syria and along the
Euphrates valley, so this is just more training and trying to block ISIS from
their escape routes," Tillerson told reporters on his flight back to Washington
after making a speech on U.S. policy on Syria at Stanford University in
Tillerson said of Turkey, "We understand why they reacted the way they did."
He said had spoken to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday to make sure
they are on the same page.
U.S. officials have said it plans to expand a training program for local
Kurdish and Arab border guards in Syria. The U.S.-led coalition says the force,
expected to reach 30,000 in the next several years, would be deployed along
Syria's borders with Turkey and Iraq. Some 230 cadets have already been
recruited to the new border force, according to the coalition.
Speaking earlier at Stanford, Tillerson indicated the U.S. would address
Turkey's concern about "PKK terrorists" --- a reference to a Kurdish group
The speech was used by Tillerson to signal a deeper American commitment to
Syria. He indicated that U.S. forces, currently numbering more than 2,000,
would remain there for the forseeable future.
He said it was crucial for the U.S. to maintain a military presence to
prevent an Islamic State resurgence and avoid the "mistakes" of Iraq. He also
said the U.S. would step up its diplomatic efforts and push for broader
political changes in Syria, roiled by war that has claimed up to a half-million
lives since it broke out in 2011.
"Let us be clear, the United States will maintain a military presence in
Syria focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge," Tillerson said.
Recounting what went wrong in Iraq, Tillerson said, "We cannot allow history
to repeat itself in Syria. ISIS presently has one foot in the grave, and by
maintaining an American military presence in Syria, until the full and complete
defeat of ISIS is achieved, it will soon have two."
He told reporters that the overall U.S. mission remained defeating the
Islamic State group and preventing its re-emergence. He said the U.S. would not
be drawn into fighting against the forces of President Bashar Assad, despite
Washington's desire to see him step down, or against Iran, despite the U.S. aim
of ridding Syria of Iranian influence.
"We've been very clear we're not there to in any way engage with the regime.
We're not there to engage with Iran. We're there to defeat ISIS," Tillerson
Backed by Russia and Iran, Assad has reasserted control over much of Syria.
And Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. have grown worried that both of
Assad's allies are now entrenched in the country, with Iran in particular
posing an immediate threat to neighboring Israel.
Tillerson illustrated how the U.S. would continue trying to isolate Assad's
government even as the U.S. objective is "stabilization." Washington won't
allow international reconstruction aid to flow to any part of Syria under
Assad's control, he said. It will discourage countries from trading with his
More immediate, Tillerson called for Russia to continue working with the
U.S. on a "de-escalation" area in southwest Syria and stick to commitments to a
U.N.-led peace process. The U.N. mediation has languished for years without any
progress and fighting between Assad's military and rebel groups persists.