A man watches as a Russian military police armoured vehicle passes through a street in the north-eastern Syrian town of Amuda, in Hasakeh province, as part of a joint patrol between Russian forces and Syrian Kurdish internal security forces near the border with Turkey.—AFP
A man watches as a Russian military police armoured vehicle passes through a street in the north-eastern Syrian town of Amuda, in Hasakeh province, as part of a joint patrol between Russian forces and Syrian Kurdish internal security forces near the border with Turkey.—AFP

QAMISHLI: Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria left several positions along the extensive border with Turkey on Thursday, complying with a deal that sees Damascus, Ankara and Moscow carve up their now-defunct autonomous region.

Even as troops withdrew, the Kurds’ top commander threw his weight behind a German-led plan for an internationally secured security zone in the country’s north.

Russian forces have started patrols along the flashpoint frontier, filling part of the vacuum left by a US troop withdrawal that effectively returned a third of the country to the Moscow-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

A correspondent saw a Russian patrol set off from the town of Qamishli westwards along the Turkish border flying the country’s flags, accompanied by Kurdish security forces.

US President Donald Trump has praised the agreement reached in Sochi between Nato member Turkey and Russia, and rejoiced that US personnel were leaving the “long blood-stained sand” of Syria, leaving just a residual contingent behind “where they have the oil”.

The deal signed in the Black Sea resort by Syria’s two main foreign brokers gives Kurdish forces until Tuesday to withdraw to a line 30 kilometres from the border.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had pulled out of some areas at the eastern end of the border on Thursday.

Fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — the main component of the SDF — remained in many positions along the 440 kilometre border, said the Britain-based war monitor’s head, Rami Abdel Rahman.

The Observatory also reported clashes near the town of Tal Tamr between SDF fighters and some of the Syrian former rebels paid by Turkey to fight ground battles.

Nato hammers Turkey

Nato defence ministers in Brussels on Thursday slammed Turkey for its military operation in Syria conducted with Russia’s help, but recognised there was little they could do to sanction their strategically important ally.

The first day of a two-day meeting of the ministers in Brussels was dominated by the issue, with Turkey isolated among the 29 member states because of its incursion against Kurdish fighters it considers “terrorists” but who are key in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described discussions as “frank and open” — euphemisms for sharp discord — and noted “we have seen disagreements before” but the transatlantic alliance has endured.

He stressed that the ministers agreed on the need to “maintain our unity in the fight against ISIS”, referring to the IS group being fought in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere by a broad international coalition including many Nato members.

Germany presented an idea it floated this week of international troops being deployed to create a security zone in northeast Syria — a notion that has been met tepidly by allies because of the situation on the ground and the need for a UN mandate.

The top commander of Syria’s Kurdish force, Mazloum Abdi, welcomed the proposal, telling journalists in northern Syria that “we demand and agree to this”.

But the Nato ministers did not directly embrace the German plan.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2019