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Joint Russia-Turkey patrols to begin in northeast Syria on Friday

Turkish-Russian joint patrols will start in Syria on Friday, Turkey’s president said, a day after a deadline for the withdrawal of the Syrian Democratic Forces expired under a deal between Ankara and Moscow.

“We will start the joint work on the ground on Friday, namely we are starting the joint patrols,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, October 30 in a televised speech to parliament.

On Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said SDF units had redeployed from the border area ahead of a 6 p.m. withdrawal deadline.

Erdogan said Russian authorities informed Turkey that around 34,000 members of the “terror group” and 3,260 pieces of heavy weaponry were withdrawn from a zone 30 km (18 miles) deep from the border.

“The data we have points to the fact that this wasn’t fully achieved,” Erdogan said, referring to the Russian assurances. “We will give the necessary response after we carry out work in the field.”

Erdogan again stressed that Turkey “reserves the right to carry out its own operation” if it identifies any Syrian Kurdish militia or if its forces come under attack.

After marathon talks between Erdogan and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on October 22, Russia and Turkey signed a deal that will see Russian military police and Syrian border guards “facilitate the removal” of Syrian Democratic Forces from border areas. That deal followed an earlier U.S.-Turkey agreement under which Turkey was to temporarily halt its assault on northeast Syria in order to give the SDF time to withdraw from part of the border.

Under the Memorandum of Understanding between Turkey and Russia, “YPG” fighters must leave a 30-km area along the entire length of the Syria-Turkey border, and when Tuesday’s deadline expired, joint Russian-Turkish patrols to a depth of 10 km were due to begin.

Turkey’s defense ministry on Tuesday said preparations for the joint patrols had begun, with mine clearing and reconnaissance flights on patrol routes.

Russian military police conducted the first patrols in border areas on October 23, and 300 more Russian military police arrived in Syria on Friday.

NATO-member Turkey launched its Operation Peace Spring incursion into Syria on October 9 after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would withdraw the majority of U.S. troops from northeast Syria. Turkey’s armed forces and Syrian opposition groups operating under the banner of the Syrian National Army aimed to push the SDF and its predominantly-Kurdish YPG component south in order to occupy a 30-km-deep buffer zone along the border.

Backed by the U.S.-led Coalition, the SDF fought the ground war against ISIS in north and east Syria. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization inextricably linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

On Sunday, the SDF General Command said that after “extensive discussions with the Russian Federation on our previous objection to some terms of the memorandum, we agreed to the implementation of the deal.”

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With reporting from AFP. This post was updated on October 30.

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