U.S. forces still conducting joint patrols with SDF in safe zone - Erdoğan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the United States was still conducting joint patrols with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in areas of northeast Syria that Washington had agreed to clear of the Kurdish-led group.

The president’s comments came as clashes between Turkish and Kurdish-led forces have continued in northeast Syria despite Ankara’s deals with the United States and Russia to halt its military operation.

"We know that there are still terrorists in the planned safe zone. These areas have not been cleared of terrorists yet," Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency quoted Erdoğan as telling a meeting of his parliamentary party on Tuesday.

Turkey views the SDF as a terrorist organisation due to its links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey, and pushed the United States to withdraw its support for the group, which had played a key role in the fighting against Islamic State.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s agreement to pull back U.S. forces allowed Turkey to launch Operation Peace Spring on Oct. 9, leading to an agreement with the United States the next week, in which Washington vowed to remove the SDF from an area 32 km south of Turkey’s border.

But Erdoğan told reporters after Tuesday’s meeting that the United States had conducted joint patrols with the SDF within what he calls the safe zone agreed with Turkey.

“The patrols are continuing today, but while we are conducting our patrols with Russia according to our agreement, America itself says it is conducting separate patrols with the terrorist YPG,” Erdoğan said, referring to the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units, which makes up the bulk of SDF forces.

The Turkish president was likely referring to reports on Oct. 31 that U.S. forces accompanied by the SDF had patrolled an area near Turkey’s border between the towns of Rmeilan and Qahtaniyah.

After reaching the deals with the United States and Russia, Erdoğan warned that Turkey could restart its military operation if its partners failed to meet the terms of the agreements.

Clashes between the SDF and Turkish forces have continued since his warnings, and Turkey has advanced outside its area of direct control to the edge of Tel Tamr, a key strategic town southeast of the town of Ras al-Ayn.

Erdoğan said the Kurdish-led forces had been gathering on the edge of the safe zone area to launch attacks on Turkish troops.

"We will not be an onlooker to this situation. We will do what is necessary as we did before … Turkey will continue its fight until the last terrorist is neutralised in Turkey, Syria and Iraq," Erdoğan said.

The Turkish president also referred to his planned visit to Washington on Nov. 13, which has been cast into doubt due to the diplomatic fallout of Turkey’s operation in Syria.

The offensive has been widely condemned in Washington, where the U.S. House of Representatives last week voted in favour of resolutions to recognise the Ottoman massacres of Armenians as genocide and impose sanctions on Turkey. The votes are widely seen as a rebuke to Turkey over Operation Peace Spring.

Erdoğan said after the votes that he would consider carefully whether to go through with the visit. On Tuesday, he told reporters his decision would depend on the outcome of a phone conversation he plans to hold with Trump.