United States military forces seen patrolling in Syria near Turkish border

Armored vehicles carrying US flags were on Thursday spotted near the Syrian-Turkish border in a part of Syria’s northeast, an area they have not been seen since Washington announced the withdrawal of its military forces in early October, Reuters reported based on video footage and a military source.

A witness from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) described the movement of the forces in northeastern Syria as a patrol running between the towns of Rmeilan and Qahtaniyah, which is 20 km (12 miles) to the west.

The witness who claims to have seen US military vehicles outside the town of Qahtaniyah, roughly 6 km (4 miles) south of the border, also told Reuters that it would “not be a one-time” event.

Reuters video footage recorded from  Turkish territory late on Thursday also showed a convoy of more than a dozen military vehicles with US flags moving through the Syrian border city of Qamishli, which is about 30 km (19 miles) west of Qahtaniyah.

Both Turkey’s defense and foreign ministries did not respond to a request for comment, Reuters said, while the head of the SDF’s media office could not immediately be reached for comment on the issue.

The US troops’ reported movement followed the expiration of a Tuesday deadline set by Ankara and Moscow for SDF’s main component, Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia to withdraw 30 km (19 miles) away from Turkey’s border.

A week after Turkey launched its offensive in northeastern Syria on October 9, Ankara also made a similar deal with Washington and agreed to stop its assault for five days so that the SDF militia can withdraw from the area near the Turkish border.

Although both the US and Russia have said that the Kurdish fighters left the area until the agreed deadline, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said they still remained.

Erdogan said that Ankara and Moscow would on Friday begin joint patrols along the border at a depth of 7 km (4 miles).

Due to its links to the Kurdish separatists in Turkey called the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Ankara deems the YPG militia a terrorist organization and aims to carve out a “safe zone” in northern Syria cleared of the group so as to resettle at least two million refugees.

What laid the ground for Turkey’s offensive was US President Donald Trump’s much-criticized move announced on October 6 to withdraw US forces from northeastern Syria, the region where Washington allied with the SDF to oust the Islamic State (ISIS) forces.

“All Coalition military operations are de-conflicted with other forces operating in the region,” Colonel Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the US-led coalition, has said in response to a question about the reported troop movement near the Turkish border.

“We have begun repositioning coalition troops to the Deir al-Zor region, in coordination with our SDF partners, to increase security (and) continue our mission to defeat (Islamic State) remnants,” Caggins added.

Last week, the United States military indicated that it was reinforcing its position in Syria with new assets, including mechanized forces, to prevent oil fields from being taken over by remnants of the ISIS militants or others.

The US president also stated last week that they will continue to keep a small number of their troops in the area of Syria “where they have the oil”.

The oil wells of Syria are mainly located in Deir al-Zor province, well south of the Turkish border, with only one being located in the country’s northeastern tip nearer to where the US forces were spotted.

The three remaining actors in the region wielding influence over the conflict, Iran, Russia, and Turkey, have all criticized Washington’s decision to maintain a presence near oil fields.

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