Turkey, US begin 'safe zone' joint patrols in north Syria

AP , Sunday 8 Sep 2019

Turkish and U.S. troops are seen behind the border walls during a joint U.S.-Turkey patrol in northern Syria, as it is pictured from near the Turkish town of Akcakale, Turkey, September 8, 2019 (Photo: Reuters)

Turkish and U.S. troops conducted their first joint ground patrol in northeastern Syria Sunday as part of a planned so-called ``safe zone'' that Ankara has been pressing for in the war-torn region.

Turkey hopes the buffer zone, which it says should be at least 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep, will keep Syrian Kurdish fighters, considered a threat by Turkey but U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State group, away from its border.

Associated Press journalists in the town of Tal Abyad saw about a dozen Turkish vehicles with the country's red flag standing along the border after crossing into Syria, and American vehicles about a mile away waiting. The two sides then came together in a joint patrol with American vehicles leading the convoy.

At least one helicopter hovered overhead. The Turkish Defense Ministry confirmed the start of the joint patrols and said unmanned aerial vehicles were also being used.

Turkey also says some Syrian refugees could be resettled in the zone. Details of the zone and how it would work are still being worked out in separate talks with Ankara and the Kurdish-led forces in Syria known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF.

Sunday's joint patrol is the first one taking place as part of the safe zone.

Anadolu Agency said six Turkish armored vehicles crossed into Syria on Sunday from the border town of Akcakale, opposite from Syria's Tal Abyad, and joined U.S. vehicles for their first joint patrol of an area east of the Euphrates river.

AP reporters in Tal Abyad said the patrol was headed to a Kurdish-controlled base apparently to inspect it and ensure that trenches and sand berms had been removed. U.S. troops had inspected the base on Saturday during patrols with the SDF during which some of the berms Turkey had complained about were removed.

On Thursday, Turkey warned that it could ``open its gates'' and allow Syrian refugees in the country to move toward Western countries if a safe zone is not created and Turkey is left to shoulder the refugee burden alone. Turkey hosts 3.6 million refugees from Syria.

Washington and the Kurdish-led forces say a ``security mechanism'' is taking shape to diffuse tensions in the area.

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