Original article by Tessa Fox, AlJazeera
Agreement between NATO allies appears to avert, for now, a threatened Turkish operation into northern Syria.
Turkey and the United States have agreed to establish a joint operations centre in order to coordinate and manage the setting up of a safe zone in northern Syria.
The agreement on Wednesday came after three days of intense negotiations between officials from the two NATO allies in Turkey’s capital, Ankara.
A joint statement by the Turkish defence ministry and the US embassy in Ankara said the two sides had agreed to set up the Turkey-based operations centre “as soon as possible” and that the safe zone “would become a “peace corridor”, without providing futher details.
It added that the delegations had agreed to address “the rapid implementation of initial measures to address Turkey’s security concerns”, adding that “every effort shall be made so that displaced Syrians can return to their country”.
The statement did not specify how and when the zone would be created, but it appeared to avert, for the time being, a threatened Turkish operation into the region east of the Euphrates River in Syria.
Northeastern Syria is currently under the control of the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), largely comprising of the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Turkey deems the YPG to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which launched an armed campaign against the state 35 years ago.
Turkey has for weeks been pressing to establish a 30-40km deep zone within Syria, seeking the removal of the YPG from the area and the destruction of their tunnels and fortifications.
The US, on the other hand, has tried to limit the safe zone to 10km.
Before the conclusion of the talks, Turkish Defence Hulusi Akar reiterated the demands and said Turkey was ready to launch an operation into northern Syria.
“Our plans, preparations, the deployment of our units in the field are all complete. But we said we wanted to act together with our friend and ally, the United States,” he said.
Akar added that Turkey expected the US to end its support of the YPG, which has been Washington’s main ground ally in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group.
“We expect our US friends to behave in a spirit of alliance and spirit of strategic partnership,” Akar stated.
His statement came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that the US and Russia had been informed of a planned operation, Turkey’s third incursion into northern Syria in as many as years.
At the closure of the talks, a Kurdish-led administration in Syria’s northeast told Al Jazeera they had not yet discussed the outcome of the talks in Ankara and therefore were unable to comment.
Kobane Civil Administration spokesman Shahin Najib Al Ali told Al Jazeera later on Wednesday that the talks in Ankara were not going to be the last between the US and Turkey.
“They say the meeting has ended and that they made an agreement about the shape of the safe zone, but how this zone will be, what forces will participate in this, until now this is not clear,” Al Ali said.
He also stressed that the region controlled by the Kurdish-led administration was already safe without having Turkish troops there.
“[It has been] safe, for everyone, from 2013 when we removed the regime’s forces from the region. This became the peaceful place for thousands of people who fled from the war, the regime and other military groups.”
The Turkish defence ministry and the foreign of foreign affairs each declined interview requests, saying information would only be disseminated via official written statements.