BEIRUT (Reuters) – Western states have provided counter-terrorism training in Syria to Kurdish security forces that are battling Islamic State, the head of the force said, in a significant expansion of support to the Kurdish administration in northern Syria.
The internal security force, known as the Asayish, is part of the Kurdish administration that has emerged in areas of northern Syria where the Damascus-based state has lost control since the eruption of the Syrian war in 2011.
The Kurds have proven the only effective partner on the ground in Syria for a U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State, having seized wide areas of territory from the jihadists this year near the border with Turkey.
Ciwan Ibrahim, head of the Asayish, told Reuters that more than 450 members of the force had received training in northern Syria – an area known as Rojava in Kurdish – in techniques such as how to deal with car bombs and booby-trapped buildings.
“Some Western states provided support and teams to provide training in Rojava,” he said in an interview conducted via Skype. He said the training took place in the last two months but declined to identify the countries or give further details.
“We appeal to all powers and neighboring states: Rojava needs support in training, equipment and technology,” he said.
The training signals a new level of backing from Western governments for the Syrian Kurdish administration, the growing power of which has alarmed neighboring Turkey which has its own Kurdish insurgency.
The Asayish, numbering in the thousands and formed in 2012, are part of a Kurdish security apparatus that includes the YPG militia that is leading the fight against Islamic State in the north.
With NATO member Turkey anxious about the expansion of Kurdish influence in that area, support to the Kurdish administration is a sensitive topic for the West. But at the same time the Syrian Kurds say they are in dire need of support to secure newly captured areas from Islamic State infiltration.
The Syrian Kurds now control a 400 km-long (250 mile) uninterrupted stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border.