USA: The U.S. military will begin putting observation posts in northern Syria to help Turkey secure its border from the threats wandering through the war-torn country, the U.S. media reported on Wednesday.
The move could prevent skirmishes in areas near Turkey’s border from distracting U.S.-backed fighters from their mission to defeat the Islamic State. The buildup, though, could draw the ire of U.S. lawmakers, some of whom view the mission in Syria as drifting away from the original goal of defeating ISIS.
“This is a change, now,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon. “We are putting observation posts in several locations up along the northern Syrian border because we want to be the people who call the Turks and warn them if we see something coming out of an area that we’re operating in.”
Mattis said this move was made in close consultation with Turkey, a NATO ally that has made several offensive operations into Syria over the past few years to deal with militant groups it says pose a threat.
“We are going to track any threat we can spot going up into Turkey,” Mattis said. “That means we’ll be talking to Turkish military across the border.” The new observation posts won’t require additional troops, though, he added.
The observation posts will be “very clearly marked” for both day and night operations so Turkish forces know their locations, according to Mattis. The U.S. military also this month began joint patrols with uniformed Turkish troops, part of a road map for easing tensions in the region between the two NATO allies.
“What this is designed to do is make sure that the people we have fighting down in the Middle Euphrates River Valley are not drawn off that fight and that we can crush what’s left of the geographic [ISIS] caliphate,” Mattis said.
“We do not say the YPG is the same as PKK,” Mattis said. “And the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have lost thousands of troops killed and wounded fighting ISIS, got distracted by the instability up around Afrin and Manbij [in northern Syria], so they were not staying fully focused.”
The observation posts could play an important role in reigning in the clashes that erupt periodically between Turkish and Kurdish forces. However, the Pentagon’s Syria mission has also faced scrutiny in recent months from members of Congress, who view a prolonged buildup in the country as ill-advised.