Syrian Kurdish forces begin withdrawing from Turkish border – Kurdish press

Kurdish forces in Syria have begun to withdraw from the Turkish border to comply with a de-escalation agreement struck earlier this month, according to reports in Kurdish press.

The Kurdish-led autonomous administrations in northern Syria have taken the first steps toward implementing a safe zone that is being negotiated with U.S. mediation to prevent a Turkish military incursion in the region.

U.S. and Turkish officials announced the safe zone deal on August 7 after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to invade the autonomous region, known as Rojava.

Ankara views the Kurdish organisations that dominate Rojava as terrorist groups due to their links to Kurdish insurgents who have fought the Turkish state for decades, but the United States has deployed forces alongside the Syrian Kurds to fight the Islamic State.

Practical steps to withdraw the mainly Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from border areas have begun August 24, said Zêdan el-Asî, a leading defence official from Rojava.

These steps include the demolition of border barriers and the withdrawal of units and heavy weaponry to deeper positions, Asî said. Border checkpoints have been handed over to the military councils that participate in governing the region, he said.

Asî said the withdrawal began in Ras al-Ayn on August 24 and in Tell Abyad on Monday, SDF-linked news agency ANHA reported.

A video clip that ANHA shared as footage of the withdrawal showed heavy machinery at work and vehicles carrying militants being driven away, accompanied by U.S. armoured vehicles. 

On Tuesday, Iraqi Kurdish news outlet Rudaw said the withdrawal was bringing the Kurdish forces to a distance of between 25 km and 40 km from the border in some areas near those two settlements.

The initial negotiations over the safe zone were reportedly held back by disagreements over the extent of the zone, with Turkish officials insisting on a depth of 20 miles and the Kurdish side reportedly unwilling to concede such a large area.