WASHINGTON — The U.S. and Turkey said Wednesday that they will seek to establish a so-called “safe zone” along the Syrian-Turkey border, a first step to mitigate Ankara’s fretting about Kurdish militia and Syrian refugees pressing near its territory.
Turkey had threatened to again invade northern Syria to squelch Kurds and isolate refugees. Defense Secretary Mark Esper had warned Turkey on Tuesday against taking such unilateral action.
The “safe zone shall become a peace corridor, and every effort shall be made so that displaced Syrians can return to their country,” a joint statement from the two militaries, released by the Pentagon Wednesday, said.
The first step planned is creation of a joint US-Turkey command center to oversee creation of the safe zone, the Pentagon said. The area would be off-limits to any Kurdish militia, the Pentagon said.
The announcement followed three days of talks between Turkish and U.S. military officials. Who would run the zone, how deep into Syrian territory the zone would extend and how it would be established and operated were left unsolved.
The language and concept resembles that in 2018 regarding joint US-Turkish patrols in the Manbij, Syria, area — another enclave of Kurds that Turkey had threatened to attack and destroy. The Kurds form the bulk of the Syrian Democratic Force, which did the hard land campaign to rout ISIS from its land holdings.
The U.S. supports the SDF; Turkey says the SDF harbors terrorist elements.
Turks and U.S. officials developed a “road map” then to establishing a peaceful area that went nowhere.
There are an estimated 150,000 Syrian refugees along the border with Turkey and hundreds of thousands more inside Turkey, according to various humanitarian organizations.
Turkey has twice carried out unilateral offensives into northern Syria, in 2016 and 2018.