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US, Turkey launch joint patrols in north-east Syria

By AFP

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US Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters conduct a joint aerial patrol of the 'safe zone' over north-east Syria with Turkish military helicopters on September 5th. The safe zone is intended to address Turkish security concerns, maintain security in north-east Syria so ISIS cannot reemerge, and allow the coalition to remain focused on achieving the enduring defeat of ISIS. [US EUCOM]

The US and Turkey on Sunday (September 8th) began joint patrols in north-east Syria, seen as the first step in establishing a "safe zone" in the area, AFP reported.

Six Turkish armoured vehicles crossed the border to join US troops in Syria for their first joint patrol under a deal reached between Washington and Ankara last month.

Two helicopters flew over the area as the Turkish vehicles drove through an opening in the concrete wall separating the two countries.

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Turkish and US troops take part in their first joint patrol under a deal reached between Washington and Ankara at the border with Syria near Akcakale, in the Sanliurfa province of Turkey on September 8th, 2019. [Bulent Kilic/AFP]

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US soldiers take 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 on September 8th. Six Turkish armoured vehicles crossed the border to join US troops in Syria for their first joint patrol under a deal reached between Washington and Ankara. [Delil Souleiman/AFP] 

They then headed west with the same number of American vehicles, along with an ambulance and a pick-up, for the joint operation, before crossing back into Turkey.

The Turkish defence ministry said drones were also deployed.

The agreement reached on August 7th aims to establish a "safe zone" between the Turkish border and the Syrian areas east of the Euphrates river controlled by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

Syrian Kurdish forces began withdrawing from along the Turkish border in late August.

US focused on 'enduring defeat of ISIS'

The patrol allowed Turkish forces to observe "first-hand progress on destroyed YPG fortifications and areas where YPG elements voluntarily departed the area", said Col. Myles Caggins, spokesman for the international coalition against the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

The YPG forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a key partner of Washington in the fight against ISIS in Syria.

Caggins said the patrol demonstrated the coalition's "continued commitment to address Turkey's legitimate security concerns, while also allowing the coalition and our SDF partners to remain focused on achieving the enduring defeat" of ISIS.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his US counterpart Donald Trump had promised the buffer would be 32 kilometres wide.

Turkish army chief Gen. Yasar Guler told Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top US military officer, in a phone call on Saturday that the safe zone must be set up without delay, the Turkish defence ministry said.

A joint centre of operations was recently established as part of the agreement.

Ankara hopes the safe zone will smooth the way for the return of some of the more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.

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