Turkish and US troops conducted their first joint ground patrol in northeastern Syria on Sunday as part of the so-called "safe zone" that Ankara has been pushing into the volatile Kurdish-run region.
Turkey expects the buffer zone, which it says should be at least 10 miles deep, will keep Syrian Kurdish fighters away from its border. Turkey considers these Kurdish militias a threat, but they were also the main US allies in the fight against the Islamic State group.
The presence of Turkish troops in Kurdish-administered areas is a major advance in the conflict along the border. Over the past four years, Washington has often had to play the role of arbitrator, trying to prevent violence between its NATO ally in Turkey and its local Syrian partners, Kurdish-led fighters.
So far, Kurdish-led forces have retreated up to 14 kilometers from the border and removed defensive positions, berms and ditches.
The depth of the zone, as well as who will control it, is still being worked out.
Several Turkish armored vehicles with the country's red flag crossed Syria, where US troops were waiting for them. At about 800 meters, more US armored vehicles flying the American flag awaited the start of the patrol. Associated Press journalists in the area around the village of Tal Abyad on Sunday saw vehicles turning on, with US vehicles leading the convoy of 12 vehicles.
With local farmers and children watching, the convoy drove through Syria's interior, through a patchwork of green farms and dry meadows. The joint patrol ended after two and a half hours, with four stops along the way in villages near the border.
Local passengers waited patiently while the train blocked traffic.
“We don't know what this will do. Let's see, ”said one of the spectators.
The Syrian government, which withdrew from the area in the chaos of war following the start of the 2011 conflict, condemned the joint patrol on Sunday and called it "an aggression."
While the patrol was taking place, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said serious differences remain with the Americans.
"Our negotiations with the United States in the safe zone are continuing, but we see with every step that what we want and what is on their minds is not the same," he said.
"It is clear that our ally is trying to create a safe zone for the terrorist organization, not for us," he added, addressing crowds in the eastern city of Malatya.
Source: The Associated Press