Turkey, Russia agree to terror-free zone in Syria

By Nicholas Sakelaris & Sommer Brokaw
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addresses government troops Tuesday in the Idleb countryside in Syria. Photo by SANA/EPA-EFE
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addresses government troops Tuesday in the Idleb countryside in Syria. Photo by SANA/EPA-EFE

Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Ankara and Moscow have reached a "historic" deal to create a terror-free zone in northern Syria, the Turkish government said Tuesday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the deal after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia's coastal city of Sochi to go over Turkey's Operation Peace Spring, state-Run Anadolu reported. The operation was launched Oct. 9 in northern Syria to secure Turkey's borders and remove terrorists from northern Syria while ensuring Syria's territorial integrity.


Erdogan said they agreed to ban separatist movements from Syria's terror-free zone.

By noon Wednesday, "the People's Protection Units (YPG) and their weapons will be taken out of the terror-free zone and their positions will be dismantled," Erdogan added. "The YPG will retreat 30 kilometers (19 miles) within 150 hours, and then Turkish-Russian joint patrols will be launched in the area 10 kilometers (6 miles) into Syrian territory."


Both presidents agreed to commit to "the preservation of the political unity and territorial integrity of Syria and the protection of Turkey's national security" in a joint memorandum.

Under the deal, joint efforts will also be launched to help return refugees safely and voluntarily.

Earlier Tuesday, the Iraqi government said U.S. forces do not have its permission to conduct military operations from within its borders.

The announcement came one day after the Pentagon said American efforts had moved there from Syria.

U.S. forces withdrew from Syria two weeks ago at the direction of President Donald Trump, which was followed by a Turkish incursion that targeted Kurdish fighters in the northeast. The U.S. military said last weekend troops would be re-stationed in Iraq to monitor terrorist activity in Syria and added Monday that the shift had begun.

The government in Baghdad answered Tuesday by saying American forces can't stay.

"All U.S. forces that withdrew from Syria received approval to enter the Kurdish region so that they may be transported outside Iraq," the government said in a statement. "There is no permission granted for these forces to stay inside Iraq."

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper previously said he'd spoken with Baghdad officials about the plan to shift U.S. troops to Iraq.


"The aim isn't to stay in Iraq interminably," he said Tuesday. "The aim is to pull our soldiers out and eventually get them back home."

The United States has a small force of about 5,000 troops in Iraq, mostly in training and advisory roles.

Trump's withdrawal in Syria was widely condemned as a betrayal to Kurdish forces, with whom the Pentagon was previously allied to fight the Islamic State terror group in Syria.

The five-day cease-fire between Turkey and Kurds in Syria expires at 10 p.m. Tuesday, the Turkish Defense Ministry said. So far, 136 Kurdish vehicles have left the "safe zone" that Turkey wants to establish along its border with Syria. Turkey considers the Kurds a terrorist group.

"The activities of terrorist elements are controlled through radars and UAVs day and night," said Lt. Cmdr. Nadide Şebnem Aktop, Defense Ministry spokeswoman.

Aktop added that while Turkey abides by the terms of the agreement with the United States, the YPG terrorists have violated it 42 times.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republicans introduced a resolution opposing the Trump administration's decision to pull out of northern Syria. It calls for an immediate halt to the withdrawal. "The Senate needs to speak up. We cannot effectively support our partners on the ground without a military presence."


"Withdrawing from Syria will invite more of the chaos that breeds terrorism and creates a vacuum our adversaries will certainly fill," McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

The House passed a similar measure last week with only 60 representatives voting against it. McConnell also said they could impose sanctions on Turkey for its invasion of Syria that occurred after U.S. forces started leaving.

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