ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – American and Turkish troops conducted their third joint ground patrol in northeastern Syria on Friday despite Ankara’s ongoing threats to launch a unilateral operation in the north of the embattled country.
The patrols were carried out “to maintain security in the region so we can focus on the lasting defeat of Daesh [ISIS],” read the official Twitter account of US Special Operations in the coalition to defeat the Islamic State.
The Turkish National Defense Ministry also confirmed it had taken part in the “third land patrol within the planned safe zone started east of Euphrates River and Tal Abyad with the participation of the US and Turkish army personnel, land vehicles and UAVs.”
The ground patrols, as well as joint flights, are part of a security agreement made between Washington and Ankara in early August. This plan is designed to address specific concerns of Turkey, which wants areas along its border to be cleared of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the group that provides the military leadership for the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Turkey considers the YPG to be the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), against which it has fought in a decades-long conflict over Kurdish rights in Turkey. The YPG has denied these links to the PKK and has often accused Turkey of supporting the Islamic State.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday warned that the deadline to jointly establish a “safe zone” with the United States in northern Syria had expired, bringing the possibility of a cross-border offensive closer.
Furthermore, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Thursday that he had told his American counterpart, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, that Turkey expects the US to “completely terminate” its support of the SDF, including supplying them weaponry.
Chris Maier, the Pentagon’s director of the Defeat-ISIS Task Force said on Sept. 18 that the coalition would continue to provide weapons and vehicles to the SDF to help it fight Islamic State sleeper cells.
A statement on Friday by the SDF’s coordination and military operation center read, “Today was the 3rd Joint Ground Patrol for US and Turkey in the security mechanism area. This patrol can see the good faith actions of the SDF.”
“The SDF is working closely with the Coalition to keep the people in the security mechanism safe,” it added.
According to Nicholas A. Heras, a Middle East security analyst at the Center for a New American Security, Turkey’s security concerns in northeastern Syria are being addressed fully by the US-led Coalition and the SDF.
“The warmongering rhetoric coming from Ankara is not only unnecessary, unfounded, and unhelpful to the effort to defeat ISIS, it befits a warmongering bully, not an ally,” he told Kurdistan 24.
When asked about the Turkish threats on Thursday, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Spokesperson Colonel Patrick Ryder declined to comment “other than to say that we continue to implement the security mechanism.”
“We continue to see YPG fortifications being dismantled with the SDF and – and so that again shows a good base effort on the SDF’s part to help implement this mechanism.”
NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Tod Wolters on Thursday also addressed the joint patrols, describing them as “very, very effective,” but adding, “We’ve still got a long ways to go.”
“Turkey is a very, very important partner from a NATO perspective,” he said. “And what they do to enhance the security disposition on the continent remains very, very productive.”
Editing by John J. Catherine