Turkish military enters Syria to begin joint US safe zone patrol

US armored vehicles travel in a joint patrol of the safe zone between Syria and the Turkish border with the Tal Abyad Military Council near Tal Abyad in Syria on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. (AP)
Updated 08 September 2019

Turkish military enters Syria to begin joint US safe zone patrol

  • Vehicles with Turkish flags joined those in Syria with US flags some 15 kilometers east of the Turkish border town of Akcakale
  • Damascus said it strongly opposes joint patrols in northeast Syria, calling it a flagrant ‘aggression’

TAL ABYAD, Syria: Turkish and US troops conducted their first joint ground patrol in northeastern Syria Sunday as part of a planned so-called “safe zone” that Ankara has been pressing for in the volatile region.
Turkey hopes the buffer zone, which it says should be at least 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep, will keep Syrian Kurdish fighters, considered a threat by Turkey but US allies in the fight against Daesh, away from its border.
Associated Press journalists in the town of Tal Abyad saw about a dozen Turkish armored vehicles with the country’s red flag standing along the border after crossing into Syria, and American vehicles about a mile away waiting. The two sides then came together in a joint patrol with American vehicles leading the convoy.
At least two helicopters hovered overhead. The Turkish Defense Ministry confirmed the start of the joint patrols and said unmanned aerial vehicles were also being used.
Washington has in the last years frequently found itself trying to forestall violence between its NATO ally Turkey and the Kurdish fighters it partnered with along the border to clear of Daesh militants.
An initial agreement between Washington and Ankara last month averted threats of a Turkish attack. But details of the deal are still being worked out in separate talks with Ankara and the Kurdish-led forces in Syria known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF.
Turkey, which has carried out several incursions into Syria in the course of the country’s civil war in an effort to curb the expanding influence of the Kurdish forces, carried out joint patrols with US troops in the northern town of Manbij last year.
Sunday’s joint patrol is the first one taking place east of the Euphrates River, where US troops have more presence, and as part of the safe zone that is being set up.
Anadolu Agency said six Turkish armored vehicles crossed into Syria on Sunday from the border town of Akcakale, opposite from Syria’s Tal Abyad, and joined US vehicles for their first joint patrol of an area east of the Euphrates river.
AP reporters in Tal Abyad said the patrol was headed to a Kurdish-controlled base to inspect it, apparently to ensure that trenches and sand berms had been removed. US troops had inspected the base on Saturday during patrols with the SDF during which some of the berms Turkey had complained about were removed.
The patrol ended after two and a half hours, with four stops along the way in villages near the border to inspect bases.
Helicopters flew low. Local commuters patiently waited while the convoy blocked traffic. The patrol then continued driving along dirt tracks as farmers and kids looked on.
“We don’t know what this will do. We will see,” said one onlooker.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, speaking hours after the joint US-Turkey patrols began, said on Sunday Ankara and Washington have constantly disagreed over establishing the planned “safe zone.”
“We are negotiating with the US for the safe zone, but we see at every step that what we want and what they have in mind is not the same thing,” he said. “It seems that our ally is looking for a safe zone for the terrorist organization, not for us. We reject such understanding.”
The Syrian government, which withdrew from the area in the chaos of war after the conflict erupted in 2011, condemned the joint patrol Sunday and labeled it “an aggression in every sense of the word.”
In a statement issued by the Syrian Foreign Ministry, it said the move was a “blatant violation of international law and the sovereignty” of Syria.
The Syrian government also reiterated its “absolute rejection” of the planned safe zone in the area, calling it a violation of Syria’s territorial unity.
“The Syrian Arab Republic condemns in the strongest terms the joint patrols conducted by the United States and the Turkish regime,” said state news agency SANA, citing a foreign ministry source.
The source described the patrols as an “aggression” that “aims to complicate and prolong the crisis in Syria,” SANA added.
For Turkey, a “safe zone” is important because it is hoping some of the Syrian refugees it has been hosting for years could be resettled there, although it is not clear how that would work.
On Thursday, Erdogan warned that Turkey could “open its gates” and allow Syrian refugees in the country to move toward Western countries if a safe zone is not created and Turkey is left to shoulder the refugee burden alone. Turkey hosts 3.6 million refugees from Syria.
Rather than calling it a safe zone, Washington and the Kurdish-led forces have said a “security mechanism” is taking shape to diffuse tensions in northeastern Syria.


Iraq prudent over taking foreign Daesh terrorists

Updated 18 October 2019

Iraq prudent over taking foreign Daesh terrorists

  • European states have been trying to fast-track a plan to move thousands of foreign Daesh militants out of Syrian prison camps and into Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraqi officials appeared cautious on Thursday after holding talks with European powers this week aimed at accelerating efforts to create a judicial framework that would enable terrorists being held in Syria to face trial in Iraq.

European states have been trying to fast-track a plan to move thousands of foreign Daesh militants out of Syrian prison camps and into Iraq, after the Turkish offensive in northern Syria raised the risk of radicals escaping or returning home, diplomats and officials said.

Legal experts from Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden have been in Baghdad this week for technical talks, and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was in Iraq on Thursday to discuss the issue with the Iraqi government and Kurdish leaders. Speaking at a news conference with Le Drian, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Al-Hakim said his government’s priority was to bring back Iraqi fighters and their families “if possible.”

FASTFACT

European states have been trying to fast-track a plan to move thousands of foreign Daesh militants out of Syrian prison camps and into Iraq, after the Turkish offensive in northern Syria raised the risk of radicals escaping or returning home.

“With regard (to) foreign fighters ... these countries must take necessary and appropriate measures to try these people,” he said. 

Europeans comprise a fifth of around 10,000 Daesh fighters held captive in Syria by Kurdish militias which are under heavy attack by Turkish forces. If the militias redeploy prison guards to the front line, there is a risk of jail-breaks.

Europe does not want to try its Daesh nationals at home, fearing a public backlash, difficulties in collating evidence against them, and risks of renewed attacks from militants on European soil.