Turkey, U.S. agree to form joint operation centre for Syria safe zone

07/08/2019 - 19:05 Published in News/General

Turkey and the United States have agreed to set up a joint operation centre to coordinate a planned safe zone in northern Syria, the Turkish defence ministry has said.

The announcement on Wednesday came on the third day of talks between the two NATO allies, who have been stuck in a deadlock for months over the size of the zone and who would command it.

Turkey had previously accused the US of dragging its feet, and had demanded Washington sever its relations with the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria. 

Ankara considers the Kurdish-led group an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an outlawed separatist group. The YPG was Washington's main ally on the ground in Syria during the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group. 

The two countries agreed to "establish as soon as possible a joint operations centre in Turkey to coordinate and manage the establishment of a safe zone", the Turkish defence ministry and the US embassy in Ankara said in a joint statement.

The two sides agreed that the safe zone "become a peace corridor", the statement said, adding that it was also aimed at sending Syrian refugees in Turkey back home.

Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Gaziantep, near the Turkey-Syria border, described the announcement as a "breakthrough" but added it was not immediately clear how and when the zone would be created.

Military build-up

The talks started after Turkey, which already has a foothold in northwest Syria, said it was considering intervening militarily in the Kurdish-controlled area east of the Euphrates in northern Syria against the YPG.

In recent weeks, Turkey has been deploying large numbers of troops to its border with Syria, with Turkish media outlets showing images of military convoys carrying equipment and fighting units.

Both Turkey and the US were in agreement that so-called "safe zones" should be created in northern Syria to prevent the YPG from encroaching on Turkish borders, but disagreed over the size of those zones.

Washington had proposed a two-tiered safe zone, with a five-kilometre demilitarised strip bolstered by an additional nine kilometres cleared of heavy weapons - stretching in total less than half the distance into Syria that Turkey is seeking.

Turkey has also said it must have ultimate authority over the zone, another point of divergence with the US.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar had said earlier that the US was shifting closer to Ankara's views on the proposed safe zone, adding that Turkey's plans for a military deployment there had been finalised.

"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," state-owned Anadolu Agency quoted him as saying.