WASHINGTON — U.S. and Turkish forces began joint patrols in a contested area of northern Syria, a long-promised but often delayed operation aimed at reducing tensions between the two NATO members.
The patrols will take place in the contested city of Manbij, which is held by Kurdish allies of the U.S. and where U.S. forces have warily watched encroaching Turkish troops.
The joint patrols began Thursday and are an element of a diplomatic roadmap arranged between Turkey and the U.S. to ease tensions. The joint patrols follow five months of rehearsals aimed at harmonizing tactical, safety and logistic operations, U.S. Central Command said Thursday.
“As professional NATO forces, the recent rehearsals conducted by Turkish and Coalition forces provide an important foundation. Our interoperability ensures our ability to work together to continue to protect the civilians of Manbij in our common goal of the enduring defeat of (ISIS),” Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, Deputy Commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters in an email.
Turkish and Coalition military forces have conducted more than 60 independent, coordinated patrols outside of Manbij since June 2018, Ghika said. “We’re fully supportive of the roadmap and the combined joint patrols, and I am confident they will be very effective,” he said.
Ghika said that a “designated and bilaterally agreed upon ground force commander will lead the joint patrols.” That individual was not immediately named.
Turkey has accused the U.S.-back Kurdish forces of containing elements of the YPG, a Kurdish terrorist group, a charge the Pentagon has repeatedly said is not accurate. Ankara moved forces into parts of northern Syria earlier this year and has threatened to forcibly drive the Kurds from Manbij.
Kurdish ground troops were a key element in the U.S.-backed offensive that pushed ISIS out of Manbij in 2016.