Turkey-US joint patrols ‘aim to keep Kurdish fighters away from border’

A US military convoy takes part in a joint patrol with Turkish troops in the Syrian village of Al-Hashisha on the outskirts of Tal Abyad town along the border with Turkish troops, on September 8, 2019.

:: As part of their efforts to set up a “safe zone” east of the Euphrates River in Syria, Turkey and the US embarked on their first joint ground patrols on Sunday on the suggested site of the zone. The troops were backed by helicopters and reconnaissance drones.

The patrol “maintained security within the area, and demonstrates our continued commitment to address Turkey’s legitimate security concerns,” said Col. Myles Caggins, spokesman for the international anti-Daesh coalition.

The operation aims to keep the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) away from the border with Turkey, he added.

But whether this will revive bilateral relations is uncertain because just after the patrol ended, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Washington of siding with “terrorists,” and warned that his country will implement its own “safe zone” if talks with the US stall.

“It seems Turkey’s ally is after a safe zone in northern Syria not for Turkey, but for the terrorist group (the YPG). We reject such an approach,” Erdogan said on Sunday.

Mehmet Emin Cengiz, a research assistant at the Al-Sharq Forum in Istanbul, told Arab News that the first joint ground patrol is a good step regarding the implementation of the “safe zone,” but “it was quite limited and is not enough to revive cooperation between Turkey and the US. Such a move alone can’t create a magical effect on bilateral relations.”

On Aug. 7, Turkish and US military officials decided to establish a “safe zone” in northern Syria, and a peace corridor to help displaced Syrians return home.

But “the language of the deal … was pretty vague,” said Cengiz.

“We shouldn’t forget that the US continues its military help to the YPG.”

Aaron Stein, Middle East program director at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the joint patrols are better than the alternative: A Turkish military operation in the area.

“But Erdogan has made clear repeatedly that these won’t be enough to satisfy the Turkish government,” Stein told Arab News.

“The US has bought time, but nothing has been resolved and I don’t expect things to get any better from here on out.”

Joe Macaron, a fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, DC, said the objective of the preliminary US-Turkish agreement in Syria is to manage the conflict of interest between both sides rather than resolve it.

“As long as the US continues its support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (of which the YPG is the primary component), and Turkey remains in alliance with Russia, the revival of cooperation in Syria between Washington and Ankara isn’t feasible,” he told Arab News.

Under Turkish pressure, the US has rushed to start joint patrols before agreeing on the depth of the “safe zone” and who controls it, he added.

“Erdogan is criticizing the US administration and betting on his meeting with (US President Donald) Trump in New York this month to settle this issue, as both sides always aim to find a consensus rather than go to confrontation,” Macaron said.

“Regardless of what might happen though, the safe zone is a temporary fix. These contentious issues they’re facing will remain pending moving forward.”

Erdogan is expected to hold talks with Trump during the UN General Assembly meeting in late September to discuss several issues, including Syria.

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