Joint US-Turkey Patrols Begin in Northern Syria
Joint US-Turkish ground patrols aimed at setting up a safe zone in northern Syria were set to begin Sunday, according to Turkey’s defense minister. “There is a general agreement on which we expect the activities to be carried out at a certain sequence and pace,” Hulusi Akar said, adding that both countries had already started monitoring the area using helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles. Last month, Washington and Ankara reached an agreement to set up a joint operations center on the Turkish side of the shared border with Syria, although details of how large the buffer zone would be remain sketchy. Prior to that, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to launch an offensive targeting US-backed Kurdish YPG units, which Ankara views as an extension of the banned PKK. The PKK has for decades waged an insurgency in Turkey – resulting in some 40,000 deaths – geared toward achieving autonomy. The US-Turkey initiative comes at a tense time, with Damascus having recently agreed to a loose cease-fire with rebels in nearby Idlib Province. Syrian troops, backed by Russian air power, launched an offensive in Idlib in April in order to recapture the last major rebel-held bastion in the war-torn country.