SEVIMLI, Turkey (AP) — Turkey and Russia launched joint patrols Friday in northeastern Syria, under a deal that halted a Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters who were forced to withdraw from the border area following Ankara’s incursion.
The patrols will cover two sections, in the west and east of Turkey’s operation zone in Syria, with a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles). Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition fighters now control the border towns of Tal Abyad, Ras al-Ayn and nearby villages. The deal on the patrols excludes the city of Qamishli, according to the ministry’s statement on Tuesday.
Turkey’s defense ministry tweeted on Friday that the patrols started in al-Darbasiyah region, with Turkish and Russian troops, armored vehicles and drones.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the joint patrol consists of nine military vehicles, including a Russian armored personnel carrier, and would cover a 110-kilometer (68-mile) route on Friday.
The joint patrols did not fly Russian and Turkish flags on their armored vehicles on Friday. An Associated Press journalist at the Turkey-Syria border could see the Syrian flag hoisted on a building on the Syrian side. Syrian government troops moved into Kurdish-held areas following an agreement in October.
Turkey last month invaded northeastern Syria to push out Syrian Kurdish fighters whom it considers terrorists for their links to a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.
But the U.S. had partnered with the Syrian Kurdish fighters, their top allies in the war against the Islamic State group. The relationship has strained ties between Washington and Ankara who are NATO allies.
After an abrupt and widely criticized decision by President Donald Trump to withdraw American troops from this part of Syria, the Kurdish forces approached the Syrian government and Russia for protection. Syrian government troops and Russian military police subsequently moved into areas along the border.
Two ceasefire agreements —brokered by the U.S. and Russia— paused Turkey’s operation to allow the Syrian Kurdish fighters withdraw 30 kilometers (about 19 miles, away from the border.
Russia told Turkey, at the end of the 150-hour cease-fire on Tuesday, that the Syrian Kurdish fighters were out of the strip of territory, as well as out of the towns of Manbij and Tal Rifaat, west of the Euphrates River.
Also Friday, Turkey’s defense ministry announced that a Turkish soldier was killed after an improvised explosive device detonated on Thursday, bringing the Turkish military’s death toll to 13 since the start Ankara’s invasion in northeastern Syria on Oct. 9. Mortars fired from Syria during the early phases of the operation killed 21 civilians in Turkey.
Though the truce has mostly held, it has been marred by accusations of violations from both sides and occasional clashes. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to resume the offensive if deemed necessary.
Associated Press writers Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.