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YPG begins withdrawal from Syria-Turkey border

People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces have begun withdrawing from the Syria-Turkey border area as part of an agreement with the United States and Turkey, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria said in a Tuesday, August 27 statement.

YPG fighters and heavy weapons were withdrawn from the area around Serêkaniyê (Ras Al-Ain) on August 24, and from Tel Abyad on August 26, the co-chair of the Defense Office of Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria said on Tuesday.

The move is part of “the tripartite understandings regarding border security with Turkey,” and the U.S. reached earlier this month, the statement said.

YPG forces removed fighters, some earth mounds, and heavy weapons to new locations and handed over the border points to local forces, he added.

SDF removes border fortifications
Syrian Democratic Forces remove military fortifications along the Turkey-Syria border, August 22, 2019. Image: US Army/Spc. Alec Dionne

On August 7, Turkish and U.S. officials reached a deal for a security zone along the border to reduce tensions between Turkey and the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which are backed by the U.S.-led Coalition against Islamic State.

The width of the border strip will vary and will include rural areas and military positions but not cities or towns, Reuters reported SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali as saying on Tuesday.

Bali said the SDF would also withdraw from a 5-14 km wide area along the border.

The Turkish government has been threatening for months to launch a unilateral incursion into northern Syria to clear the border area of the predominately Kurdish YPG militia, unseat affiliated political figures and resettle Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey there.

Turkey considers the Kurdish-led YPG to be the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and is a designated terrorist organization in by Turkey and the U.S.

A significant number of U.S. Special Operations Forces, alongside some British and French troops, remain in Syria’s northeast, where they have trained and advised the SDF in the ground war against Islamic State.

SDF removes border fortifications
A US service member observes as Syrian Democratic Forces remove military fortifications along the Turkey-Syria border, August 22, 2019. Image: US Army/Spc. Alec Dionne

Turkey has launched two previous incursions into northern Syria, taking control of much of Idlib province with Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016 and the mainly Kurdish enclave of Efrin with Operation Olive Branch in January 2018, which led to mass civilian displacement.

The border deal is expected to closely mirror one for the northern Syrian city of Manbij. The U.S. and Turkey previously agreed in June 2018 to conduct joint patrols around SDF-controlled Manbij and that the YPG would leave the area. Ankara has long accused Washington of stalling on that agreement.

Turkey had previously demanded a 30-kilometer zone overseen by the Turkish military, which would include nearly all Kurdish-majority areas in Syria. The SDF rejected that offer, proposing an internationally-controlled five-kilometer zone from which the YPG agreed to withdraw, SDF commander Mazlum Abdi said last month.

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