Turkish and U.S. troops began joint patrols in northern Syria on Thursday aimed at averting clashes between Turkey and Washington’s Kurdish allies, but Turkey pressed on with a new threatened offensive nearby to crush the Kurds, Reuters reports.
Turkish military advances into northern Syria over the past two years have put U.S. forces directly in the path of advancing troops from Turkey, Washington’s main Muslim NATO ally.
The two countries have been working to avert direct confrontation, even as Turkey aims to crush the Kurdish YPG militia. The YPG forms the main part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that Washington backs with arms, air support and around 2,000 special forces troops on the ground in the fight against Islamic State.
To avert more fighting, the United States and Turkey agreed three months ago to hold joint patrols around the town of Manbij on the west bank of the Euphrates, under a deal that also saw Kurdish fighters withdraw from the city.
But even as the joint patrols were due to begin this week, Turkey announced a new offensive against the Kurds on the opposite bank of the river, into territory where the SDF is backed by U.S. troops to fight against Islamic State.
Turkey’s defense minister and the U.S.-led military coalition in Syria confirmed the start of the joint patrols in Manbij, about 30 km (19 miles) from the Turkish border, on Thursday. Previously, U.S. and Turkish forces have held coordinated but separate patrols there.
A Reuters journalist saw a convoy of six military vehicles, some flying the U.S. flag and others flying the Turkish flag, driving on Thursday about 20 km from Manbij city.
The patrols are taking place along the dividing line between territory controlled by the SDF-allied Manbij Military Council and a Turkish-controlled area in northern Syria.
However, the U.S.-Turkish cooperation in Manbij does not seem to have succeeded in averting what would be the first Turkish offensive across the Euphrates.
Turkey has been firing across the border for five days in preparation for what President Tayyip Erdogan says will be an offensive soon to crush the Kurdish forces along the breadth of the Turkish frontier.