This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Russia says Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria have completed their withdrawal from areas along the Turkish border in line with a deal struck between Ankara and Moscow.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Russian and Syrian troops have moved into the border zone following the Kurdish withdrawal, which he said had been completed ahead of a deadline that expired at 3 p.m. Greenwich mean time on October 29.
Russia’s Defense Ministry, citing a senior military official working on Syria, said 34,000 Kurdish militia members had left the “safe zone” with their weapons and equipment by the deadline.
Major General Yuri Borenkov also said the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had set up 84 border outposts on the Syrian-Turkish border.
Turkey and Russia last week gave the Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara considers a terrorist group, 150 hours to clear out of a zone from the Turkish border extending 30 kilometers into Syria.
Under the deal, Turkish and Russian forces would conduct patrols in a portion of the so-called “safe zone” at an undisclosed time after the expiration of the deadline.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech on October 29 that Russia “informed our competent authorities of the terror groups’ complete withdrawal from there.”
And Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the joint Turkish-Russian patrols would begin “soon.”
Erdogan had warned that Turkey would “clear terrorists” on its border in northeast Syria if Kurdish fighters did not withdraw by the end of the deadline.
U.S. President Donald Trump last month announced a withdrawal of U.S. troops from along the Turkish border to allow Turkish forces to set up the zone free of Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Trump received sharp bipartisan criticism for this decision, which some saw as a “betrayal” of Kurdish allies, and has since said some troops would remain to help prevent oil facilities from falling into the hands of Islamic State militants.
Russia, along with Iran, has provided crucial support for Assad during Syria’s civil war, while Turkey has backed rebel groups.
The conflict began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011 and has since killed more than 400,000 people.
Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and Erdogan has said his country plans to resettle up to 2 million of them in northeastern Syria.