FILE PHOTO: Turkey’s Chief of the General Staff Hulusi Akar is seen during the EFES-2018 Military Exercise near the Aegean port city of Izmir, Turkey May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey loaded tanks and armored vehicles onto trucks on Saturday and dispatched the convoy to the Turkish province of Hatay on the Syrian border, the Demiroren news agency said.
It was the second day of reinforcements of the Turkish military presence on the border near the northern Syrian province of Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in Syria.
On Friday, a Turkish security source said the Turkish army had been rotating forces in and out of the region, and declined to say whether the latest movement was in preparation for an operation inside Idlib province itself.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced last month that he had decided to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. The decision injected new uncertainty into the eight-year-long Syrian war and spurred a flurry of contacts over how a resulting security vacuum will be filled across northern and eastern Syria where the U.S. forces are stationed.
On the one hand, Turkey aims to pursue a campaign against Kurdish forces that have allied with the United States, and on the other the Russia- and Iran-backed Syrian government sees the chance to recover a huge chunk of territory.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday he was optimistic that a “good outcome” could be achieved that protects both Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, after speaking to Turkey’s foreign minister.
Earlier on Saturday, the Turkish defense minister, chief of general staff and the intelligence agency head visited border military units and discussed “measures to establish peace and stability in the region,” the ministry said in a statement.
“We are making every effort to preserve the ceasefire and stability in Idlib, in line with the Sochi agreement. Our close cooperation with Russia continues,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said.
Akar’s comments came a day after Russia said it remained committed to an agreement it had struck with Turkey to stabilize a de-escalation zone in Idlib, but said Moscow was worried by an increase in the number of ceasefire violations there.
Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Ros Russell