(Qamishli, Syria): There has recently been some confusion in media regarding plans for so-called "Border Forces" of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). U.S. officials seemed to backtrack on the existence of such an initiative following outcry from Turkey, but on the ground the training and organizing of these border forces are going ahead. In fact, it is openly being advertised to journalists inside the SDF areas. Today at 10 a.m. local time in the vicinity of the Sabah al-Khayr silos in the Hasakah countryside (to the south of Hasakah city), I attended the graduation of the second contingent of the SDF border forces. At the graduation ceremony, personnel of this contingent were waving SDF and Self-Defence Forces banners. Overseeing the ceremony were SDF officers and trainers as well as some U.S. personnel. It should of course be noted that the presence of the Americans is no surprise, as the U.S. is helping to train, arm and equip these fighters.
The ceremony was quite open in referring to the concept of border forces. "This force will be a foundational force to protect the borders of north Syria," proclaimed the announcer at the graduation ceremony. Note that 'north Syria' is understood to refer to the official name of the SDF-held areas: the Democratic Federation of North Syria. In the same speech, the announcer also spoke of the border forces as intended to protect "all the borders of Syria," likely in reference to the official SDF goal of a united Syria that adopts a federal system. This force is intended to repel any group/entity that "threatens the security and stability of Syria." He further emphasized that the courses to build up the border forces would continue.
The following details could be ascertained from conversations with the newly trained fighters and their supervisors:
The contingent numbers some 250 fighters and has both Kurds and Arabs in its ranks, ranging in age from young to old. Indeed, one of the fighters I managed to speak to was an Arab from Ayn Issa in Raqqa countryside. However, it would appear that a plurality if not majority of the fighters are from the Kobani area. Some of them have little knowledge of Arabic. As a Kurdish trainer from Hasakah explained, this is because these Kurdish fighters grew up in the Kobani area without proper access to education to learn Arabic.
The particular assignment of this contingent is to function as a border protection force, approximately between Kobani and Tel Abyad along the border with Turkey. The monthly salary will be approximately 70,000-90,000 Syrian pounds, varying according to assignments. The system of work and leave will be roughly 12 days of work and 3 days of leave permit. The training course lasted for 19 days. As far as prior experience goes, some of the fighters were already in the SDF before training to become part of the border forces, while others are new recruits.
Given that the borders of SDF territories are so long, the overall size of the border force will have to be very large. Eventual numbers in the range of 30,000 or more were not disputed.
Below are some photos I took of the graduation ceremony, including some lively dancing after the formal vows and congratulations.
(20th January, additional note: the announcer also said these words during the graduation speech:
"There are today threats on Syria's borders in Afrin, Jarabulus, Kobani, Ras al-Ayn, all of Jazeera [canton], even Idlib. For this reason, the establishment of the border guard forces is a legitimate right for the SDF."
It is difficult to see how this could not be aimed at least in part at deterring Turkey from attacking SDF areas. In addition, the fact U.S. personnel were present means they must be aware of this).