Turkey's Erdogan says Kurdish YPG have not left Syria 'safe zone'
By Nevzat Devranoglu and Ali Kucukgocmen
ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday the Kurdish YPG militia had not withdrawn from some Syrian border areas and that U.S. forces were still carrying out joint patrols with the group, contrary to an agreement between them.
He was speaking as Turkish and Russian soldiers in armored vehicles held their second joint ground patrol in northern Syria near the town of Kobani, under a deal to push the YPG some 30 km (19 miles) away from Turkey's border.
Nearly a month ago, Turkey and Syrian rebel allies launched a cross-border incursion against Kurdish YPG fighters, seizing control of 120 km (75 miles) of land along the frontier.
Turkey subsequently struck two separate deals with the United States and Russia for the YPG to withdraw from the "safe zone" it plans to form in the region, in return for Ankara stopping its offensive against the group.
While Washington and Moscow have said the fighters had left the border region, Erdogan said this was not the case.
"These areas are not cleared of terrorists. Terrorists have not been taken out of either Tel Rifaat or Manbij," Erdogan said, referring to two towns in the western border area where he said YPG fighters remained.
They were also still present east of Ras al Ain, a town Turkey targeted in the incursion, Erdogan said in parliament.
He said Turkey would abide by the deals as long as Washington and Moscow kept their promises.
He later told reporters that U.S. forces were still holding joint patrols with the YPG inside the 30-km border strip from which the militia was meant to withdraw.
"How can we explain America holding patrols with terrorist organizations in this region even though they made the decision to withdraw? This is not in our agreement," he said.
Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group because of its ties to militants who have waged an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984. U.S. support for the YPG, which was a main ally in the fight against Islamic State, has infuriated Turkey.
A survey by pollster Metropoll on Tuesday showed Turks' support for Erdogan surged last month, when Ankara launched the incursion.
Erdogan's approval rating rose by 3.7 points in October to 48%, the survey showed, its highest since shortly after last year's elections. His disapproval rating fell 9.3 points to 33.7%, its lowest since a failed 2016 coup.
JOINT PATROL NEAR KOBANI
The joint Turkish-Russian patrol on Tuesday was launched some seven km (four miles) east of Kobani, a Syrian border town of special significance to the YPG, which fought off Islamic State militants trying to seize it in 2014-15. The patrol was completed in two hours, a witness said.
The Turkish Defence Ministry shared photos on Twitter showing Turkish and Russian soldiers meeting at the border and studying maps before the start of the patrol. It said drones were also taking part.
Russia is the Syrian government's most powerful ally and since 2015 has helped it retake much of the country from rebels, turning the tide in the civil war. The Turkish-Russian deal enabled Syrian government forces to move back into border regions from which they had been absent for years.
Russian military police arrived in Kobani on Oct. 23 under the deal reached by Erdogan and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Ankara launched its offensive against the YPG following President Donald Trump's abrupt withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria in early October. The YPG helped the United States smash the Islamic State caliphate in Syria.
(Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Daren Butler)