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Turkey and Russia begin joint patrols in northeast Syria

US redeployment sees Russian troops working with Turkish soldiers in strategic area along the border
Turkish and Russian military vehicles are seen during a joint patrol in northeast Syria, as they are pictured near the Turkish border town of Kiziltepe on 1 November 2019 (Reuters)

Turkey and Russia began their first joint ground patrols in northeast Syria on Friday, under a deal between the two countries that pushed the Kurdish YPG militia away from the Turkish border.

The operation followed last week’s agreement between Ankara and Moscow to remove the militia's fighters to a depth of at least 30 km south of the border, as well as Russia's confirmation that the YPG had left the strip.

The Turkish defence ministry confirmed the start of the patrols on Friday with a post on Twitter, saying ground and air units were involved in the patrol in the Syrian border town of Darbasiyah.

The tweet was accompanied by photos showing Russian and Turkish soldiers studying a map together ahead of the patrols.

The 110-km joint patrol with Russian military police, consisting of nine military vehicles, was starting at Darbasiya and travelling west along the border, the Russian defence ministry said.

Footage from the Reuters news agency showed Turkish armoured vehicles driving through country roads across the border to join their Russian counterparts on Friday.

A video posted on social media also appeared to show Turkish and Russian armoured vehicles entering Syrian territory at the beginning of the joint patrol. 

YPG withdrawal incomplete?

On 9 October Turkey launched an offensive in northern Syria, targeting the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the Peoples Protection Units (YPG). Together with allied Syrian rebels, Turkey seized control of 120 km of land along the frontier.

The move, which was preceded by a promise by US President Donald Trump to withdraw US troops from the area, had provoked outrage from some observers who fear a massacre being carried out against Kurds in northern Syria.

Despite earlier Russian assurance, on Wednesday President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had information that the YPG, which Ankara sees as a terrorist group because of its ties to Kurdish militants fighting an insurgency in southeast Turkey, had not completed its pullout, Reuters reported.

He also said that Turkey’s joint patrols with Russia were starting on Friday at a depth of 7 km within Syria, less than the 10 km set out in the 22 October Ankara-Moscow deal.

Russia is the most influential ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and helped its government turn the tables in the country’s civil war by retaking much of the country from rebels since 2015.

The Turkish-Russian deal last week allowed Syrian government forces to move back into border regions from which they had been absent for years.