ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has evacuated seven military observation posts in northwest Syria, pulling back troops from territory controlled by the Syrian government to areas held by insurgents and Turkey-backed rebels, a Turkish source said on Friday.
Turkey had set up a dozen military posts in the region in 2018 as part of an ill-fated deal it reached with Russia and Iran to calm fighting between Syrian government troops and rebels. Ankara backs the forces fighting Bashar al-Assad, while Moscow and Tehran back the Syrian president.
Several Turkish military posts were surrounded last year by the Russian-backed Syrian government forces. Turkey vowed at the time to maintain its presence at all of them but it started withdrawing in October.
The source, who requested anonymity, said the last of the evacuations was completed on Thursday night, and the forces were being redeployed within territory controlled by the Ankara-backed forces under an understanding reached with Russia.
“It is not in the form of troop withdrawal or reducing their numbers. The situation is just about changing location,” the source said.
Syrian rebels say Turkey retains between 10,000 and 15,000 troops in northwest Syria, alongside rebel fighters backed by Turkey and jihadist forces it has committed to disarm and contain.
Already home to nearly 4 million Syrian refugees, Turkey is determined to prevent further influx of people fleeing fighting. The United Nations says there are about 4 million people in northwest Syria outside Syrian government control, of which 2.7 million have been displaced during the nine-year conflict.
Reporting by Orhan Coskun; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans, Robert Birsel
Image; A Turkish army convoy drive from the border back to their base in Karkamis on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern Gaziantep province, Turkey, August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas