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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) speaks in conversation with former U.S. Secreatry of State Condoleezza Rice to the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University on January 17, 2018 in Stanford, California. Tillerson and Rice discussed the future U.S. and Syria policy. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Tensions Soar as Syria Decries Open-Ended US Military Presence 'Act of Aggression'

Tensions rise in Syria as Turkey threatens invasion, Damascus vows to "shoot down" planes if attacked, and Secretary Tillerson lays out troubling plan for permanent U.S. engagement

Jon Queally

As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the Trump administration's plans for the "open-ended" presence of U.S. military in their country, the Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad on Thursday decried the ongoing presence of U.S. soldiers in the country as a form of "aggression" which would not be tolerated.

The Syrians voiced their objections to the U.S. military's continued activities inside its territory—with the number of American soldier's believed to be around 2,000—with a statement from the Foreign Ministry which stated that the "American military presence on Syrian land is illegitimate and represents a blatant breach of international law and an aggression against national sovereignty."

The statement emerged after Tillerson on Wednesday, at a forum hosted by the right-wing Hoover Institute at Stanford University, argued that removing U.S. forces from inside Syria would only serve to "restore" Assad's grip on the country and "provide Iran the opportunity to further strengthen its position in Syria."

Meanwhile, tensions are intensifying along Syria's border with Turkey this week after the Turkish government threatened to launch a cross-border incursion to fight Syrian-Kurdish fighters, specifically the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—backed by the U.S. and dominated by the Kurdish YPG.

That threat came straight from Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and came in response to the Trump administration putting forth a plan to arm and train a 30,000-member military force inside the Kurdish-dominated border region in north-western Syria.

"A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders," Erdoğan said in a speech on Monday, referring to the U.S. plan. "What can that terror army target but Turkey? Our mission is to strangle it before it's even born."

In his remarks on Wednesday, Tillerson did his best to tamp down Turkish concerns.

"That entire situation has been misportrayed, misdescribed, some people misspoke," Tillerson said. "We are not creating a border security force at all."

Despite those efforts, however, Turkish officials have repeated their threat to invade while Syria vowed to use the" same determination" to free its territory of any "illegitimate foreign presence" as it has to fight members of the Islamic State and other jihadists groups.

Regarding the threat of a Turkish invasion, Syria responded by saying it was prepared to "shoot down" Turkish warplanes and defend its territory from any attack.


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