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Mar 20, 1:54 PM EDT

Syrian Kurdish militia says it's getting Russian training


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BEIRUT (AP) -- A Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey views as a terrorist group said Monday that it is receiving training from Russia.

Russia's Defense Ministry said it had embedded servicemen with the People's Protection Units, or YPG, in northern Syria, but said they were there to monitor a cease-fire between the Kurdish forces and rival Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces. It said the servicemen were not there to establish a base.

The ministry said the units had been deployed from its Center for Reconciliation, at its air base in Hmeimim in northwestern Syria, where it flies raids in support of President Bashar Assad's government.

YPG Spokesman Redur Khalil said the Russian forces were there "by agreement" and called the training mission a step toward "direct contacts" with Russia, in comments carried by the group's Hawar News agency.

The U.S.-backed YPG has proven to be one of the most effective forces battling the Islamic State group, and has carved out a semi-autonomous zone along the Turkish frontier.

It maintains neutral relations with the Russian-backed Syrian government and sometimes clashes with Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces.

Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency in its southeast. Hostilities between the two groups have increased since Turkey deployed its military in support of Syrian opposition forces in the north of the country last year.

Russia and Turkey have long coordinated military movements in Syria, despite backing opposing sides in the country's six-year-old civil war.

Russia said its units were deployed in the Afrin district, a Kurdish enclave in the northern province of Aleppo.

The admission comes two weeks after the U.S. deployed its own contingent to another town linked to the Kurdish group, to deter any clashes between the group and Turkey. Ankara has threatened to drive YPG-affiliated forces out of the town of Manbij.

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