US and Turkey begin joint patrols in northeast Syria

The US and Turkish militaries conducted a joint patrol in northeast Syria on Sunday.

The US-led international coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS) said during the patrol it observed the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) is withdrawing from parts of northeast Syria as the US and Turkey asked it to, according to a spokesman for the US Central Command (CENTCOM).

“Our allies observed first-hand progress on destroyed YPG fortifications and areas where YPG elements voluntarily departed the area,” said Col. Myles B. Caggins III in a statement.

Last month, following numerous threats by Turkey to invade northern Syria, the US and Turkey agreed to establish a joint operations center in northern Syria to reduce Turkish-YPG tensions. Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has fought the Turkish state for decades for greater Kurdish rights and autonomy, but is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and the US as well. The YPG leads the US-backed anti-ISIS alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls northeast Syria after defeating ISIS there.

The details of the exact agreement remain unclear, but the US has said the SDF is removing some fortifications from the border area. The latest deal followed months of talks of a “safe zone” in northeast Syria along the Turkish border, though the details of this have likewise yet to be finalized.

The US said Turkey’s concerns are “legitimate” and worthy of US cooperation in the statement Sunday, but also that the SDF should remain focused on ISIS.

“Today’s patrol maintained security within the area and demonstrates 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 Daesh (ISIS),” said Caggins.

The patrol included six Turkish vehicles, six American vehicles and two helicopters. It took place near the Turkish town of Akcakale on the Syrian border, according to AFP.

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to take action against the YPG in Syria if there is no safe zone established.