US, allied Kurdish force conduct patrol on Syrian border
BEIRUT (AP) — U.S. troops and an allied Syrian militia conducted a joint patrol Wednesday in a town on the border with Turkey, a Kurdish news agency and a Syria war monitor reported. The move appeared to be part of an agreement to set up a safe zone along Syria’s northeast border.
Turkey sees the Syrian Kurdish fighters, who make up the majority of the Syrian Democratic Forces militia and are allied with the U.S., as terrorists aligned with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey. American troops are stationed in northeast Syria, along with the Kurdish forces, and have fought the Islamic State group together.
Turkey has been pressing for a safe zone to ensure security on its border running east of the Euphrates River toward the Iraqi border. Turkey wants to control — in coordination with the U.S. — a 19-25 mile (30-40 kilometer) deep zone within civil war-ravaged Syria.
The patrol occurred near the town of Ras al-Ayn and consisted of U.S. troops and members of the Ras al-Ayn Military Council, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Kurdish ANHA news agency. ANHA aired a video of the joint patrol that included armored vehicles raising American flags accompanied by allied militia members in pickup trucks.
The Ras al-Ayn Military Council is purportedly a local force separate from the SDF but Turkey will likely see it as being under SDF influence.
Ras al-Ayn is in Hassakeh province and is home to several ethnic and religious groups, including Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians.
The patrol came a week after the SDF announced that it had begun withdrawing its fighters from Ras al-Ayn and another border town, Tal Abyad. The withdrawals were part of a deal for the so-called safe zone in northeast Syria involving the U.S. and Turkey.
Turkey wants the region along its border to be clear of Syrian Kurdish forces and has threatened on numerous occasions to launch a new operation in Syria against Syrian Kurdish forces if such a zone is not established.
The developments in the country’s northeast came as a truce in the northwestern province of Idlib held despite some violations.
The U.N. human rights chief said earlier Wednesday her office has tallied more than 1,000 civilian deaths in Syria over the last four months, the majority of them due to airstrikes and ground attacks by President Bashar Assad’s forces and their allies.
Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said 1,089 civilians were killed in the war-battered country between April 29 and Aug. 29, including 304 children.
She said nearly all — 1,031 — were reportedly attributable to government forces and their allies in Idlib and Hama provinces. Another 58 were caused by “non-state actors.”
Bachelet was speaking to reporters in Geneva on Wednesday to go over her first year in office.
Idlib province, near Syria’s border with Turkey, is the final stronghold of the rebels in Syria.
Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten contributed from Geneva.