Turkish tanks gather close to the Syrian border on January 21, 2018, at Hassa, in Hatay province. Photo: AFP/Bulent Kilic

The White House reportedly tried to send a message to Turkey’s president on Tuesday that it was easing support for Syrian Kurds, while rumors surfaced the US was supplying air defense systems to the group.

After Turkey began an offensive into Kurdish territory in Syria, the White House released a statement disavowing a US military plan to create a Kurdish-led force in the country’s northeast, the New York Times reports.

The Pentagon promptly contradicted the message, saying that the US would continue to support the Kurds.

Meanwhile, rumors surfaced that the US has supplied Kurdish militias operating in Syria with man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADs). The reports were spread by pro-opposition Syrian forces on January 15.

An anonymous senior White House administration official said on Tuesday that a plan to create a Kurdish-led force originated with midlevel military planners in the field, and was never seriously debated at senior levels in the White House or the National Security Council.

Despite the White House denials, the Pentagon confirmed a plan to create the Kurdish-led force, according to the New York Times report.

“U.S. forces are training local partners to serve as a force that is internally focused on stability and deterring ISIS,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, was quoted as saying in the statement. “These local security forces are aimed at preventing the potential outflow of fleeing ISIS terrorists as their physical presence in Syria nears its end and pending a longer-term settlement of the civil war in Syria to ensure that ISIS cannot escape or return.”

The emphasis on the “internally focused” nature of the forces was cited as a shift from the initial description as a “border force.”

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