Joint Turkish-Russian patrols will start in Syria on Friday, Turkey‘s president has said, after the Kremlin said Syrian Kurdish fighters had withdrawn under a deal between Ankara and Moscow.
“We will start the joint work on the ground on Friday, namely we are starting the joint patrols,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told parliament on Wednesday in a televised speech.
Under an agreement hammered out in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi last week after Turkey’s cross-border offensive into Syria, Kurdish forces were given a 150-hour deadline to withdraw from a band of territory along the border.
Under the Sochi deal, Turkish and Russian joint patrols were meant to begin after the deadline expired on Tuesday.
Erdogan said Russian authorities had informed Ankara that some 34,000 members of the “terror group” had withdrawn — together with 3,260 pieces of heavy weaponry — from a zone running 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the Turkish-Syrian border.
“The data we have points to the fact that this wasn’t fully achieved,” Erdogan said, referring to the Russian assurances.
“We will give the necessary response after we carry out work in the field,” he added.
Erdogan again stressed that Turkey “reserves the right to carry out its own operation” if it identifies any Syrian Kurdish militia or if its forces come under attack.
The Turkish army and its Syrian proxies launched an offensive against Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria on October 9 with the aim of creating a buffer zone.
The invasion left hundreds dead and displaced tens of thousands of people, prompting Ankara and Russia to hold a summit in Sochi.
Under the deal signed there, Turkey would keep one 120-kilometre-long segment roughly in the middle of the buffer strip, while regime forces would deploy to sections of the border to the east and west.
Within the buffer, a thinner 10-kilometre strip is due to be patrolled jointly by Russia and Turkey.
The two powers’ respective allies on the ground are old enemies.
On Wednesday, an AFP correspondent reported fighting just near the flashpoint border town of Ras al-Ain between Syrian regime forces and Turkey’s proxies.
Before being hired by the Turkish military, most of these rebels were former members of rebel factions that were defeated by pro-Assad forces elsewhere in Syria during earlier battles of the country’s eight-year-old war.