image Photo: Reuters

Erdogan: ‘safe zone not cleared from terrorists yet’

Turkish and Russian troops began their second joint ground patrol in armored vehicles near the northern Syrian town of Kobani, under a deal that has forced the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and its most powerful YPG militia to withdraw from Turkey’s border region.

Security sources confirmed that territory effectively covered by the patrols spans 72 kilometers (slightly less than 45 miles), located five kilometers (a little more than 3 miles) into Syria from the Turkish border.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that United States forces are still conducting joint patrols with the Kurdish YPG militia in a Syrian border region Ankara and Washington had agreed would be cleared of the militant group.

Speaking to members of his AK party, the Turkish head of state warned that unless Washington and Moscow abide by their commitments, Ankara will reevaluate its course of action. “We know that on both sides, terrorists are still present within the borders of the area that we established as a safe zone,” said Erdogan. “They cannot deceive us by saying: ‘We removed the terrorists from there.”

The U.S. troops mentioned by the Turkish president are tasked with protecting oil fields in northeast Syria, including some located within Ankara’s envisioned safe zone. In a report published by the Arab 24 Network, American soldiers were seen travelling alongside YPG militants in the strategic town of Rmelan in the Hasakah Province. When asked by the Reuters news agency about the Washington’s operational plans, one ground force commander commented, “for right now, we are just patrolling around. I don’t have that answer for you.” The unnamed soldier then added, “I’m sure that that answer will be made at some of the highest levels, and then I will be able to answer it better later on.”