Photo: Reuters

Syrian Democratic Forces withdraw from safe zone

Russian and Turkish forces have started patrolling a narrow corridor of some 10 kilometers, equal to 6.2 miles, along the Syrian-Turkish border. The referred to patrols, sealed under an agreement that was reached last week between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prompted a deployment of additional Russian troops and armored vehicles in the northern part of war-torn Syria. Meanwhile, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces received a Russian military escort during a coordinated withdrawal from Ankara’s envisioned safe-zone, on the Syrian side of its border. The Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement that Syrian government forces would fill the power vacuum by deploying in its place along the border with Turkey. Furthermore, it called on Russia to guarantee dialogue between the Syrian government and the Kurdish-led administration in northeast Syria.

Despite the documented withdrawal, which was confirmed by both Damascus and Moscow, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisted that Turkey could not yet verify whether all of the Syrian Democratic Forces, including its most powerful YPG militia, have withdrawn beyond the agreed upon 30 kilometers security zone, equal 18.6 miles.  In his words, “There are fighters who withdrew. (Syrian) regime forces confirm this. Russia confirms it as well but so far, it is not possible to say all of them have withdrawn yet. Our military personnel are in touch on this matter. A military delegation is coming from Russia. They will also discuss the latest developments on the withdrawal.”

The Turkish top diplomat stressed that unless all of the Kurdish forces withdraw, Turkey will have no other choice but to clear them from Ankara’s envisioned safe-zone by force. He said “If they don’t withdraw to 30 km depth, Turkey will clear these terrorists from there as per the notice given to YPG by the Russians and public statements. Therefore, if there are any (fighters) who do not withdraw, we will clear them out. In this sense, just because we paused the operation and stopped after the accord it doesn’t mean we will do nothing to the terrorists who remain there.”

Minister Cavusoglu’s threat echoed a comment made by his President’s earlier this week, in which Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed “If the terrorist organization continues to carry out its attacks from inside or outside the 30 km-long strip, we will chase them to wherever they flee and we will do whatever is necessary.”

Speaking in the Turkish city of Istanbul, President Erdogan also threatened Europe that unless they support Turkey’s security zone in Syria, both politically and financially, Ankara will open its borders and march the 3.6 million refugees into Europe. He said that “if they don’t support the projects, we have developed for the return of one or two million Syrian refugees at first stage out of the 3,600,000 Syrians living in our country, we have no choice but to open our gates and let them march to Europe.”