Turkish army says 1 killed in north Syria amid shaky truce
ISTANBUL (AP) — Kurdish fighters killed one Turkish soldier and wounded five others amid a shaky truce in northern Syria, Turkey's army said Sunday, bringing its military death toll to 11 since the launch of its cross-border operation.
Turkey invaded northern Syria on Oct. 9 to clear the border of Kurdish fighters after President Donald Trump said he would order American troops to withdraw from the area. Turkey considers the Kurdish group a serious security threat because of links to a long-running Kurdish insurgency within eastern Turkey. Trump's abrupt decision drew heavy bipartisan criticism in Washington for abandoning the U.S.'s key ally against the Islamic State group.
The Syrian Kurdish forces made a deal with the Syrian government and Russia after being abandoned by the U.S. The Trump administration has since sought to contain the conflict between its two allies, rushing to broker a cease-fire between Turkey and Syria's Kurdish groups.
Turkey's military said the attack occurred near the border town of Ras al-Ayn where its forces were conducting reconnaissance. The area falls within a 30 kilometer (19 miles) deep border zone Kurdish forces are withdrawing from, under the U.S.-backed deal. The soldier was wounded Saturday and died of his wounds Sunday, the military said.
Syria's state news agency reported its forces in the area between Ras al-Ayn and Tal Tamr to the south clashed with the "forces of the Turkish occupation." It wasn't clear if the clashes were with the Turkish army or with Turkey-backed fighters. It also said its forces were continuing to deploy to areas along the border.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes pitted Syrian government forces and the Kurdish-led forces against the Turkey-backed fighters south of Ras al-Ayn. The Turkey-backed forces are about 10 kilometers (6 miles) away from Tal Tamr town.
Despite the U.S.-brokered ceasefire and a second one negotiated by Russia, occasional skirmishes have continued and both sides have blamed each other for violations. The Turkish military said its forces responded "within the framework of self-defense" to the rockets, mortars and heavy machine gun attack.
A 150-hour truce brokered by Russia, allowing Syrian Kurdish fighters to complete their withdrawal, runs out Tuesday evening. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Saturday the country would restart its operation if the Kurdish forces do not leave.
The Observatory said the Kurdish-led forces have continued their withdrawal, leaving villages in the Amuda area, east of Ras al-Ayn and close to Qamishli city. In a statement Sunday, the Kurdish-led forces known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, said it is "redeploying its forces" away from the border in line with the Russia-Turkey deal to "stem the bloodshed" while Syrian government border guards are taking their positions along the border.
The SDF urged the Russians to live up to their part of the deal by opening a dialogue with the central Damascus government. The Kurdish-led administration is seeking a level of self-rule under the central government, something that Damascus has so far rejected.