The joint US-Turkey ground patrols for a “safe zone” in Northeastern Syria began on September 8th. The first patrol began and concluded on the day.
Anadolu Agency said that six Turkish-flagged armoured vehicles joined the US military convoy from Akcakale district of southeast Sanliurfa province in Turkey. Two helicopters flew over the ground units, and the Turkish Defense Ministry said that UAVs were also used.
On August 7th, US and Turkish military officials agreed to establish a “safe zone” in the area. A joint operations center was also agreed. A six-member U.S. team arrived in Turkey’s southeast on Aug. 12 in preparations for the center.
Reportedly, agreements were also established to deal with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey deems a terrorist organization. The US is allied to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose core is the YPG and the PKK.
On September 6th, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar confirmed that the patrol would take place.
“We plan to start the joint ground patrols on Sept. 8,” Akar said. “There is a general agreement on which we expect the activities to be carried out at a certain sequence and pace.”
On September 8th, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that if the “safe zone” isn’t established by the end of September 2019, then Turkey would “have no choice” but to set out on a mission to establish it on its own.
“If de facto formation of a safe zone east of the Euphrates River with Turkish soldiers is not initiated by the end of September, Turkey has no choice but to set out on its own,” Erdogan said.
He further accused the US of trying to negotiate with Turkey and the SDF (YPG/PKK) “terrorists” on equal ground.
“It seems Turkey’s ally is after a safe zone in N.Syria not for Turkey but for the terrorist group. We reject such an approach,” he added.
Erdogan noted that it is “insufficient” to form a safe zone in N.Syria with “3-5 helicopter flights, 5-10 vehicle patrols and a few hundred soldiers in area.”
He further stressed that Turkey needs to effectively secure the entire region of the safe zone in N.Syria to settle 1 million people there.
“We want to create an area cleared of Daesh along with PKK and its extensions PYD-YPG-SDG, only in this way we can ensure that our Syrian brothers and sisters living in our country, in Europe or elsewhere can return to their homes and live in peace and security.”
Erdogan said he would pay a visit to the U.S. after Sept. 22, and he would attend the UN General Assembly meeting and “most probably” would separately meet with U.S. President Donald Trump and discuss “face-to-face” the steps to be taken in the east of the Euphrates River.
“Because what they do doesn’t match what they say, so we need to solve it,” Erdogan said.
Just days earlier, on September 5th, Erdogan threatened to “open the flood gates” and allow refugees into the Western countries if the “safe zone” wasn’t established.
“We will be forced to open the gates. We cannot be forced to handle the burden alone,” Erdogan said, reiterating Turkey’s annoyance that past proposals for the creation of the safe zone — envisioned as a place where refugees could be re-settled — has been ignored by Western nations. We did not receive the support needed from the world and especially from the European Union, concerning the burden-sharing,” he said.
Following the successful completion of the first patrol, the Turkish Defense Ministry announced that everything was going according to plan.
“Land and air joint patrols will continue in the coming days in order to supervise the activities for the establishment of the safe zone with care and precision, to observe the practices in the field and to proceed in accordance with the schedule,” the ministry said in a written statement.
Prior to the first patrol, US and Turkish top army officials discussed the “safe zone.”
Gen. Yasar Guler explained to U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford the views and expectations of Turkey about the region, adding that the formation of the safe zone should be done “within the framework of the principles set in the calendar”, the Defense Ministry said in a written statement.
On the side of the SDF, Ilham Ahmed, co-chair of the executive committee of the group said that there was hope for dialogue with Turkey, which doesn’t’ specifically appear like that.
“We seek to find a way to dialogue, and starting to implement this plan expresses our readiness and seriousness,” Ahmed said in an interview.
“We want to tell the world and the coalition that we are ready to take serious steps to get to dialogue,” she added.
She said that more US troops would be needed to establish the “safe zone,” even though the US announced that they would be withdrawing from Syria in December 2018 and have partially done so.
“In the coming days, and because of the needs of the formation and implementation of the security mechanism, they may need more forces. It is not yet clear what the U.S. administration would decide,” she said.
The deal envisions an area five to 14 kilometers deep with no YPG presence, as well as removal of heavy weapons from a 20-kilometer-deep zone, Ahmed said. Turkey wants a deeper zone. The length of the zone has not yet been agreed on, but will likely stretch hundreds of kilometers.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Military Situation In Syria On September 9, 2019 (Map Update)
- Map Update: Turkish And US Forces Carry Out Joint Patrol In Northeastern Syria