Truce gives Kurdish forces until Tuesday evening to withdraw from ‘safe zone’
SDF commander says Turkey was blocking his forces’ withdrawal
US forces withdrew from their largest base in northern Syria yesterday, a monitor said, as Turkey accused Kurdish forces of killing one of its soldiers in fighting that tested a fragile truce.
Ankara launched a cross-border attack against Syria’s Kurds on October 9 after the United States announced a military pullout from the north of the war-torn country.
A US-brokered ceasefire was announced late Thursday, giving Kurdish forces until Tuesday evening to withdraw from a “safe zone” Ankara wants to create along its southern frontier.
The Kurds have been a key ally to Washington in the US-backed fight against Islamic State group jihadists in Syria, but Turkey views them as “terrorists” linked to Kurdish militants on its own soil.
Yesterday, an AFP correspondent saw more than 70 US armoured vehicles escorted by helicopters drive past the northern Syrian town of Tal Tamr carrying military equipment.
Some flew the American stars-and-stripes flag as they made their way eastwards along a highway crossing the town, he said.
The Syrian Observatory for the Human Rights said the convoy was evacuating the Sarrin military base.
The vehicles appeared to be heading to the town of Hassakeh, further east, said the Britain-based monitor, which relies on sources inside Syria for its information.
Sarrin is situated more than 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of the border town of Kobane, on the edges of the Turkish-desired “safe zone,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Yesterday’s pullout was the fourth such withdrawal of American forces in a week and left Syria’s northern provinces of Aleppo and Raqa devoid of US troops, Abdel Rahman said.
Turkey and the Kurds have traded accusations that the other was not abiding by the deal brokered by US Vice President Mike Pence.
Yesterday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara had seen some Kurdish withdrawals.
The top figure on the Kurdish side, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander Mazloum Abdi, has said Turkey was blocking his forces’ withdrawal and trying to blame any collapse of the deal on the Kurds.
The Observatory said sporadic clashes were ongoing in the north and northwest of Ras al-Ain, a border town surrounded by Turkish troops and their Syrian proxies.
An AFP reporter said empty neighbourhoods in the northeast of the town were calm.
He saw Turkey-backed fighters playing around on motorbikes and sitting on the pavement smoking cigarettes.