PARIS (Reuters) - The United States and Turkey have started training together to carry out joint patrols soon in northern Syria’s Manbij area, U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday, despite tense relations between the two countries.
As agreed by the two NATO allies in June, Turkish and U.S. forces are currently carrying out patrols in Manbij, but those are independent of each other. Training is the last step before the two countries carry out joint patrols.
Last month, Ankara said joint patrols and training for those would begin soon.
“The training now is under way and we’ll just have to see how that goes,” Mattis told a small group of reporters travelling with him to Paris.
“We have every reason to believe the joint patrols will be coming on time, when the training syllabus is complete so that we do it right,” Mattis added.
He said the United States was currently working with trainers and it would be followed by a few weeks of training with Turkish troops before the joint patrols started.
The training will take place in Turkey.
Turkey has been infuriated with Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia - which it views as a terrorist organisation - and prior to the June agreement it had threatened to push on with a ground offensive against the YPG in Manbij despite the presence of U.S. troops there.
Turkey’s detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson on terrorism charges has also hit relations between Ankara and Washington.
U.S. President Donald Trump, angered by Brunson’s detention, authorized a doubling of duties on aluminium and steel imported from Turkey in August. Turkey retaliated by increasing tariffs on U.S. cars, alcohol and tobacco imports.
Mattis said he would speak about the situation in Syria and militancy in Africa while in Paris, where he is expected to meet his French counterpart and President Emmanuel Macron.
Turkey and Russia agreed in mid-September to enforce a new demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib province from which rebels will be required to withdraw.
Before the deal and when a Syrian government offensive on Idlib seemed imminent, France had said that it was prepared to carry out strikes on Syrian targets if chemical weapons were used.
Reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Andrew Roche