US-Turkish border patrols start in northeastern Syria
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – American and Turkish forces began joint patrols in northeastern Syria on Sunday in coordination with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The first patrol consisted of six Turkish armored vehicles, four American armored vehicles, and two American minesweepers, amid intensive air support by both American and Turkish helicopters, local news agency North Press reported.
They headed towards the villages of Hashisha and Guilan, 30-35 kilometers east of Tal Abyad.
SDF official Mustafa Bali said that the “US-Turkish patrols will take place as coordinated and agreed upon by the SDF and the coalition in the security mechanism area where our forces have withdrawn from and left the area to local councils’ border protection units.”
He continued, “Border protection forces trained by the coalition in coordination with local military councils will fill the vacuum where our forces have pulled out of.”
He added that the local military councils would ensure stability and “will have a positive effect on our fight against Daesh [Islamic State] remnants.”
The joint patrols are part of an earlier agreed-upon security plan 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 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 and has often accused Turkey of supporting the Islamic State in the past.
Coalition Spokesperson Col. Myles B. Caggins III said in a statement that the patrols were meant to maintain security in the area and demonstrate “our continued commitment to address Turkey's legitimate security concerns, while also allowing the Coalition and our SDF partners to remain focused on achieving the enduring defeat of Da’esh (ISIS).”
“Our allies observed first-hand progress on destroyed YPG fortifications and areas where YPG elements voluntarily departed the area,” the spokesperson added.
According to an earlier statement of the US European Command (EUCOM) the plan provides “security in northeast Syria so ISIS cannot reemerge, and allows the coalition to remain focused on achieving the enduring defeat of ISIS.”
This is not the first time joint US-Turkish patrols have been carried out in Syria.
Joint Turkish-US patrols began on Nov. 1 in an area outside of SDF-held Manbij separating the Turkish-backed Euphrates Shield Forces and the SDF-backed Manbij Military Council.
This is, however, the first time that Turkish troops jointly patrol with US troops inside territories controlled by the SDF.
Editing by John J. Catherine