A Russian soldier stands guard in a Syrian village. File photo: Pavel Golovkin/AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Russian military observers will be deployed to Afrin and al-Shahba, northwestern Syria, to coordinate with Kurdish and local forces and “maintain security,” the YPG announced in a statement on Tuesday.
Following an agreement between the Kurdish YPG forces, local revolutionary forces, and Russian forces in the region, Russian military observers will go to the Kurdish canton of Afrin and the al-Shahba area – both under control of the YPG and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
“The duty of the military observers is to maintain security conditions” in the area, the YPG stated.
There has been no immediate comment from the Russian Ministry of Defence.
Turkey and its allied Syrian militias have stepped up activities around Afrin canton and al-Shahba province in recent months, resulting in frequent clashes with YPG and local forces. Three civilians were killed and seventeen wounded by Turkish artillery fire on al-Shahba last week, the YPG reported.
Turkey considers the YPG to be an extension of the PKK, a named terrorist group.
In mid-August, a new multi-ethnic force, called Rebel Forces, was formed in al-Shahba province, north of Aleppo, with the goal of expelling the Turkish army from their country.
In late July, the YPG, who form the backbone of the SDF, warned they could withdraw from the alliance fighting ISIS in Raqqa if Turkey continues to increase attacks on al-Shahba and Afrin.
“We have shared our issue with the coalition. If the Turkish state continued its occupation attacks against Afrin and Shahba, the Raqqa operation will not continue,” YPG’s Sipan Hemo told PKK-affiliated ANF media at the time.
In March, the US deployed forces to the Manbij area of northern Syria in order to “reassure” their Kurdish allies and “deter aggression” against them after clashes between Kurdish and Turkish-backed forces in the area.
The US has maintained a highly-visible presence in the area and they have come under fire from Turkish-backed rebels. The coalition first confirmed that US forces had come under fire earlier in August, though at the time they did not return fire.
CNN reported on Tuesday that US troops returned fire in an incident last week with suspected Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups. Turkish soldiers were not involved in the incident, CNN reported.
There were reportedly no casualties on either side and the US made a formal diplomatic protest to Ankara.
Turkish forces entered northern Syria last summer as part of its Euphrates Shield operation that saw the Turkish army backing Free Syrian Army elements with the stated aim of clearing border areas of “terrorists” – naming both ISIS and the YPG.
ISIS occasionally carried out cross-border attacks on Turkish villages near Syria.
Ankara declared its Euphrates Shield operation successfully complete in March, but said other operations in Syria could follow.
Russian forces are present in Syria in support of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.