US and Turkish troops conducted their first ever joint ground patrol within what Turkey has called the “safe zone” that runs along the Syria-Turkish border and extends into the northeast.
The operation is aimed at creating a buffer zone that will keep US-backed Kurdish militia – the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – away from Turkey’s border. Ankara regards the YPG as a terrorist group affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought the Turkish state for more than three decades.
“Today’s patrol maintained security within the area and demonstrates our continued commitment to address Turkey’s legitimate security concerns,” said US Army spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins.
The US refers to the area as a security mechanism.
The patrol, Caggins said, will allow the coalition and America’s Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) partners to “remain focused on achieving the enduring defeat of Daesh (ISIS).”
Joint land and air patrols will continue over the next few days, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said, according to state-run Anadolu news agency.
Caggins said during the operations Turkish officers documented that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) had withdrawn their troops from the designated area and had removed a series of some defensive fortifications.
The joint patrol follows earlier aerial surveillance flights and the establishment of a joint operations center.
While the US has not said how deep the zone will go into Syria, but an SDF commander told CNN Friday that it will average five kilometers (three miles) deep and extend as far out as 12 kilometers (seven miles) in a few places.