The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will withdraw from a 5-14 km-wide strip along Syria-Turkey border in line with a recent deal between Turkey and the United States (US), Reuters reported on Tuesday.
The move has been interpreted as the seriousness of the Kurdish-led authority in north and east Syria about the ongoing talks on a safe zone.
“These actions demonstrate a good-faith effort by the SDF that supports the implementation of the security mechanism framework,” said Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman.
Badran Jia Kurd, a senior Kurdish official said their move showed commitment to the deal, adding however that there had been no “final deal yet as the talks are ongoing and the threat remains.”
Since early August, Turkey had intensified military deployment on its southern border for a potential incursion into northern Syria. However, the talks appear to have reduced the prospects of a Turkish military operation with which Turkish authorities repeatedly threatened.
Ankara seeks to set up the zone with full control over it in order to clear the area east of the Euphrates River of the YPG, which is deemed by Turkey as a terrorist organization over their alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); an armed insurgent group fighting against the Turkish state for Kurdish self-rule.
On the US side, the YPG is deemed an important ally in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said the deal created “a security mechanism, not safe zone” that alleviates Turkish claims of fearing over its national security.
Forces of Turkey and the US, based inside Turkey would patrol the border strip, Bali added.
The YPG has reportedly withdrawn from the Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain border positions in recent days.
The width of the border strip into Syria would vary between 5 and 14 km (3-9 miles) and include rural areas or military positions, but not cities or towns, the SDF’s Bali told Reuters.
Both the YPG and the SDF would dismantle barricades in the strip and hand over control to military councils of local fighters.
The two NATO allies were still discussing the extent of the zone, with both agreeing to start work on one stretch of the border, a Reuters source familiar with the deal talks said.
According to the source, the safety mechanism arrangement was being implemented in phases, with arrangements varying at different parts of the border.
The same source added that the joint US-Turkish patrols along with the YPG presence between Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain would oversee the removal of heavy weapons, fortifications, and tunnels.
“There was a rapprochement, but our insistence on the 20 miles persists. The US has taken steps to improve this, but they are still not enough. It is not possible for us to accept the SDF’s presence there,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters.
On Monday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said that a joint operations center with the US would be operational at the weekend to monitor the buffer zone. Turkish ground troops would enter the planned zone very soon.
Erdogan said Turkish drones and helicopters had already flown over the zone.
“We demand terror organizations in the region be removed. We also demand the promise of creating a safe zone [in the region] be carried out. The provocations from across the border have been still continuing now and then. As long as the provocations continue, it is not possible for us to wait with our hands tied,” Erdogan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday during a one-day trip to Moscow.
Putin said Russia has been supporting all efforts, including the creation of the safe zone in Turkey’s southern border, to defuse the tension in the region, adding that they see the zone as a positive step for a unified Syria.
The two leaders also said they have agreed on steps to normalize the situation in northwest Syria, referring to the latest clashes near Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Tens of thousands of Syrians have recently headed towards the Turkish border as the Russia-backed al-Assad forces advanced into Idlib province.
The two countries support different sides in war-torn Syria, with Moscow backing al-Assad regime while Ankara backing rebels fighters.