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US, Turkey Begin Joint Patrols in Syria's Manbij


FILE - A U.S. soldier sits atop an armored vehicle, in Manbij, Syria, April 4, 2018.

U.S. and Turkish forces have begun joint patrols in the area of Manbij, Syria, where Kurdish militia have been critical to defeating Islamic State fighters.

Two U.S. defense officials and Turkish officials confirmed the patrols in northern Syria on Thursday.

A convoy of about 30 troops patrolled northwest of Manbij along the demarcation line dividing Turkish-controlled territory from the area controlled by the U.S.-backed Manbij Military Council, defense officials told VOA.

The Pentagon has said the purpose of the patrols is to support "long-term security in Manbij" and uphold its commitments to NATO ally Turkey.

Since June, U.S. and Turkish forces had conducted more than 60 of what the Pentagon has called "coordinated but independent" patrols in the area.

Ankara and Washington agreed on a road map to stabilize Manbij earlier that month, amid Turkish demands for the withdrawal of Kurdish militia who helped push Islamic State from the city in 2016.

"We're fully supportive of the road map and the combined joint patrols, and I am confident they will be very effective," British Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, deputy commander of the counter-IS coalition in Iraq and Syria, said in a press release Thursday.

Those Kurdish militia fighters, known as the People's Protection Units (YPG), are bolstered by Washington as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) countering IS.

Ankara, however, views the YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey, the U.S. and European Union all consider to be a terrorist organization. The U.S. and the YPG reject that characterization of the YPG.

As a result of the road map, the Manbij Military Council announced in July that all Kurdish militia who were associated with YPG had left.​

Turkish flags are seen atop military vehicles on the outskirts of Manbij, Syria, Nov. 1, 2018.
Turkish flags are seen atop military vehicles on the outskirts of Manbij, Syria, Nov. 1, 2018.

Kurdish counter-IS fight suspended

The joint patrols come as the SDF in eastern Syria's Deir el-Zour region temporarily suspended its offensive against IS because of recent Turkish shelling.

Turkish forces this week struck several Kurdish militia targets near the town of Kobani in northern Syria.

The SDF said Wednesday that it fired back in self-defense, and "as a result, a Turkish military vehicle was destroyed."

Army Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the counter-IS coalition, said Thursday that efforts were being made to ease tension:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed Syria in a phone call on Thursday.

Earlier this week, Erdogan increased threats to launch a major offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters near the Euphrates River.

"We will destroy the terror structure east of the Euphrates River. We have completed preparations and plans regarding this issue," Erdogan said in a speech to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party on Tuesday.

VOA's Sirwan Kajjo contributed to this report.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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