ANKARA (Reuters) – Kurdish YPG forces have not fully withdrawn from a strip of northeastern Syria under a Russia-brokered accord that is about to expire, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday.
FILE PHOTO: A Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighter stands near a former YPG office at the entrance of Tel Abyad, Syria, October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
Turkey, which began a military offensive in northeastern Syria targeting the YPG forces on Oct. 9 after President Donald Trump pulled U.S. troops out of the area, will discuss its next steps with Russia, he told reporters in Ankara.
If the YPG does not fulfill the agreement to withdraw some 30 km (18 miles) from Turkey’s border, Turkey will “clear these terrorists from here”, Cavusoglu 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“There are those who have withdrawn.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 But it is not possible to say all of them have withdrawn,” he said.
The YPG is viewed by Ankara as terrorists because of its links to Kurdish insurgents in southeast Turkey. But the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which include the YPG, have been a important ally of the United States in the fight against Islamic State militants.
On Sunday, the SDF said it had agreed to withdraw from the 30-km border region it had controlled until the U.S. troops pulled out.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin agreed on Oct. 22 that Syrian border guards and Russian military police would clear the region of YPG fighters over a six-day period that ends late on Tuesday.
The agreement allows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to return to parts of the northern border with Turkey for the first time in years.
Under the deal, Turkish and Russian forces will from Tuesday start patrolling a section of the Turkish-Syrian border that runs 10 km deep into Syria.
“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 in the west to the Iraq border in the east, except for the Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli.
Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Timothy Heritage