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Turkey, Russia start joint patrols in northern Syria: report

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Turkish and Russian troops began their first joint ground patrols in northeast Syria on Friday under a deal between the two countries that forced a Kurdish militia away from territory near Turkey’s border, Reuters reported.

Turkey and allied Syrian rebels launched a cross-border offensive on Oct. 9 against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, seizing control of 120 kilometers (75 miles) of land along the frontier.

Last week, Ankara and Moscow agreed to remove the militia fighters to a depth of at least 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the border, and Russia has told Turkey that the YPG left the strip.

Turkish armored vehicles on Friday drove through country roads across the border to join their Russian counterparts, according to Reuters television footage filmed from the Turkish side of the border.

Ground and air units were involved in the patrol in the area of the Syrian border town of Darbasiya, the Turkish Defense Ministry said on Twitter, showing photos of soldiers studying a map and of four armored vehicles.

The 110-kilometer joint patrol with Russian military police, consisting of nine military vehicles, was starting at Darbasiya and traveling west along the border, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Overnight, the Turkish Defense Ministry said Turkey had handed over to the Russians 18 men, believed to be Syrian government soldiers, who were detained in Syria near the Turkish border this week. It said the move was coordinated with Russia but did not say who they were handed to.

The 18 men were seized on Tuesday during operations southeast of the Syrian town of Ras al Ain, part of an area where Turkey’s incursion took place, stretching some 120 kilometers (75 miles) along the border to the town of Tel Abyad.

On Wednesday President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey had information that the YPG, which Ankara sees as a terrorist group because of its ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), fighting an insurgency in southeast Turkey, had not completed its pullout.

He said Turkey’s joint patrols with Russia were starting on Friday at a depth of 7 kilometers (4 miles) within Syria, less than the 10 kilometers set out in the Oct. 22 Ankara-Moscow deal.

Russia is the Syrian government’s most powerful ally and helped it turn the tables in the country’s civil war by retaking much of the country from rebels since 2015. The Turkish-Russian deal last week allowed Syrian government forces to move back into border regions from which they had been absent for years.

Ankara launched its offensive against the YPG following President Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of 1,000 US troops from northern Syria in early October. The YPG helped the United States smash the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) “caliphate” in Syria.

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