US, Turkey to begin patrols around northern Syrian town

Joint U.S.-Turkish patrols will begin within hours around the northern Syrian town of Manbij, part of a roadmap for easing tensions between the two NATO allies, an official with a U.S.-backed militia said Thursday.

Sharfan Darwish, spokesman of the Manbij Military Council, told The Associated Press the patrols will begin later Thursday. He said they will take place on the front lines between his group and those of Turkey-backed rebels in the operation called Euphrates Shield.

Ankara and Washington agreed on a roadmap in June amid Turkish demands for the withdrawal of the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia that freed Manbij from the Islamic State group in 2016.

The U.S. and the Turks have been conducting independent patrols along the front line and joint patrols are considered a way to tamp down potential violence between the various groups in the region.

The Manbij Military Council that administers the town says the Kurdish militia, the People's Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey views as a terrorist group, left Manbij in July.

"The aim of these patrols is to reduce tension and guarantee stability so that there will be no tension along the front line," Darwish said by telephone from northern Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, also said the patrols will begin Thursday adding that they follow days of Turkish shelling of positions of the main Kurdish militia.

CNN-Turk television quoted Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar as saying that training for the joint patrols between the Turks and the Americans have ended but it was not clear yet when the patrols will start.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Akar as saying that despite promises that the YPG and other Kurdish militias "will be removed from Manbij, the terror organizations are digging trenches there like they did in Afrin." He was referring to a Kurdish enclave taken earlier this year by Turkish troops and Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters.

"The terror organization should know that they will be buried in the trenches when the time and place comes," Akar said.

Last week, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters traveling with him in the Middle East that the soldiers' training is expected to last "several more days," and then will transition to combined patrols.