January 17, 2018 10:57 pm
Updated: January 17, 2018 10:59 pm

Ottawa quiet on whether Canada will support new U.S.-backed Syrian border force

In this Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018 photo, a car drives through a devastated part of the old city of Homs, Syria.

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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OTTAWA – The federal government is refusing to say whether Canada will support the creation of a 30,000-strong border security force in Syria, plans for which have already drawn opposition from Russia, Iran, Turkey and even the UN.

The U.S.-led coalition that has been fighting the so-called Islamic State confirmed earlier this week that it plans to establish the border force over the next few years.

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Canada is among the members of the coalition.

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The border force will include fighters from the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which have been instrumental in fighting ISIS, and it will be charged with securing Syria’s northern border with Turkey and eastern border with Iraq.

With the defeat of ISIS, also known as Daesh, in Iraq last month, Canada’s mission in the region is currently in flux, with National Defence and Global Affairs Canada drawing up different options for government.

Officials won’t say whether Canada will help with the new border force in Syria – or if it even agrees with the initiative – despite repeated requests for comment.

“Canada is a committed member of the global coalition,” Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Elizabeth Reid said in an emailed statement.

“The global coalition and its partners remain united and committed to the lasting defeat of Daesh and to preventing its exportation of terror around the world.”

One possible explanation for Canada’s silence is that while the U.S. is backing the border force as a way to bring security to the region, many other countries have come out strongly against it.

The Turkish government has led the charge because it views the Syrian Kurds who form the backbone of the Syrian Defence Forces as terrorists, and an extension of the Kurdish insurgency raging in Turkey’s southeast.

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Syria, Iran and Russia have also come out against the planned border force, while UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday: “If Syrians could solve their own problems, it would be much better.”

Canada has previously steered clear of any involvement in Syria, aside from supporting – and for a limited time, participating – in coalition airstrikes against ISIL forces in the war-ravaged country.

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The British foreign ministry has said it will not be involved in the Syrian border force.

“We continue to discuss the complex situation in northern Syria with Turkish officials, in line with our shared aim of reducing violence and enabling a political settlement,” a British foreign office spokesperson told The Defense Post.

“We call on all sides to refrain from escalating the situation and to focus on completing the fight against (ISIS), co-ordinating their action through the coalition.”

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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