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US setting up observation posts on Syria-Turkey border

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The United States is setting up observation posts in northern Syria along parts of the border with Turkey, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday.

The purpose of the posts is to provide Turkey with military intelligence on any terrorist elements moving into Turkey from Syria, the Department of Defense (DoD) website quoted Mattis as saying while holding a Pentagon press briefing.

This move comes as tensions have increased between Turkey and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spearheaded by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“Turkey, a NATO ally, has legitimate concerns about terrorist threats and from where they’re emanating,” Mattis said referring to ISIS militants, which the SDF is fighting in the last remaining strongholds in eastern Syria.

The observation posts will be manned by troops who are already operating in the area, he said. “There will not be an increase in troop levels to accomplish this mission.”

The observation posts are aimed at ensuring that Turkey and the SDF remain focused on clearing the remnants of the jihadist group.

“We are putting in observation posts in several locations up along the Syria border, northern Syria border, because we want to be the people who call the Turks and warn them if we see something coming out of an area that we’re operating in,” Mattis said.

“What this is designed to do is to make sure that the people we have fighting down in the (Middle Euphrates River Valley) are not drawn off that fight, that we can crush what’s left of the geographic caliphate,” Mattis said, referring to areas controlled by ISIS.

This is the second US-Turkey military cooperation effort in the past few weeks. The first involved combined military patrols in Syria to ease tensions and stop Turkey from launching attacks on the SDF-controlled areas in the country’s north.

On Nov. 1, the US State Department Deputy Spokesperson, Robert Palladino, confirmed they have been in touch with Ankara to de-escalate the situation in Syria. “We have been in touch with our Turkish counterparts on this,” he stated.

However, Turkish cross-border shelling continued where two journalists from Syrian-Kurdish news agency Hawar News were wounded, and a 10-year-old child was reportedly killed by the Turkish army’s shelling on villages near Tal Abyad.

The observation posts may have been proposed by the US to reinforce the US-Turkish patrols in northern Syria and ease tensions as well as reduce the frequency of bombardments by the Ankara which have slowed down the progress in the fight against ISIS.
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