The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have not fully withdrawn from a strip of northeastern Syria under a Russia-brokered accord that is about to expire, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Monday, as Ankara prepared to discuss its next steps with Moscow.
Turkey began a military offensive in northeastern Syria targeting the YPG on October 9 after President Donald Trump pulled US troops out of the area, setting off a regional power shift that analysts say benefits Moscow and Damascus.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said a Russian delegation was headed to Turkey to discuss joint patrols that could begin as soon as Tuesday.
If the YPG does not fulfill the agreement to pull back more than 30 km (18 miles) from Turkey’s border, Turkish-led forces will “clear these terrorists from here”, he said.
“There are those who have withdrawn. (Syrian) regime elements are confirming this, Russia is confirming this as well. But it is not possible to say all of them have withdrawn,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara.
Ankara views the YPG as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish insurgents in southeast Turkey. But the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which include the YPG, have been an important ally of the United States in the fight against ISIS.
On Sunday, the SDF said it had agreed to withdraw from the 30-km border region it had controlled until the US troops pulled out. Russia has moved military personnel and vehicles into the region and has said the peace plan is on track.
Under the deal agreed on October 22 between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Syrian border guards and Russian military police are supposed to clear the region of YPG fighters over a six-day period that ends late on Tuesday.
Turkish and Russian forces are then meant to start patrolling a section of the Turkish-Syrian border that runs 10 km deep into Syria.
The deal means regime leader Bashar Assad's forces moving back to parts of the northern border with Turkey for the first time in years due to the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011.
“Now, a Russian military delegation is coming (to Turkey),” Cavusoglu said. “Our friends will discuss both the latest situation on the issue of withdrawal and at the end of 150 hours (on Tuesday)... how will the patrols be, what we will do together, what steps we will take.”
The joint patrols are to run from the Euphrates River east to the Iraq border, except for the Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli, covering a portion of the so-called “safe zone” Turkey originally said it would oversee.
A committee tasked with mapping out Syria’s postwar political arrangements is scheduled to hold its first meeting in Geneva on Wednesday.
Cavusoglu will meet his Russian and Iranian counterparts in the Swiss city on Tuesday ahead of that meeting, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen,