Syria condemned Sunday joint U.S.-Turkish patrols in a border strip in the northeast of the country, saying it was a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty, an official statement said.
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Armed Turkish military vehicles crossed into Syria Sunday and headed southwest with their U.S. counterparts to begin planned joint patrols to establish a “safe zone” along a border region mainly controlled by Kurdish forces.
The move was also a violation of the “territorial integrity” of Syria, said the Syrian foreign ministry statement, referring to what the government considers attempts by the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG militia to divide the country.
Vehicles with Turkish flags joined those in Syria with U.S. flags some 15 kilometers (nine miles) east of the Turkish border town of Akcakale, near Syria’s Tel Abyad. Two military helicopters were seen overhead.
The region east of the Euphrates river is mainly controlled by Kurdish YPG forces, U.S. allies that Ankara has labeled terrorists because it says they have links to Kurdish militants in Turkey.
After intensive negotiations, Turkey and the United States have also set up a joint operation center but have so far disagreed over the zone’s depth and over the command structure of the forces to operate there.
The NATO allies have conducted multiple joint helicopter patrols over the area. Turkey, which hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees after eight years of war south of its border, hopes to resettle 1 million refugees in northern Syria.
“Our geography is an advantage, but we are at a disadvantage in terms of migration and terror,” Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said in a CNN Turk interview Sunday.
“If U.S. forces can patrol in the east of Euphrates with our forces and can enter with their own troops, and if there are the (Turkish) observation points in Idlib (in northwest Syria), this is all due to the steps were taken by Turkey.”
With U.S. backing over the last four years, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance that the YPG spearheads have taken control of much of northeastern Syria from Islamic State Group militants.