Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar (L) with US Syria envoy James Jeffrey, Ankara, July 22, 2019 (Daily Sabah)
Criticizing the US for failure to agree a “safe zone”, Turkish officials are warning of an offensive against Kurdish militias in northeast Syria.
The Government highlighted Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar’s meeting with his military officials on Thursday, a day after Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Ankara has “no patience left” with Washington.
The US Special Envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, and officials including Çavuşoğlu held talks in Ankara this week on the zone, proposed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in January.
However, the two sides differed over the depth of the zone in the Kurdish cantons of Kobani and Cezire along the Turkish border. Ankara wants a 40-km (25-mile) belt while the US is supporting only 10 km (6 miles). Turkey is also demanding the complete departure of the Kurdish militia YPG from the area, and full control by Ankara’s forces.
Turkey considers the YPG, the leading faction in the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces, as part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK, which has fought Ankara’s security forces for almost 40 years.
Çavuşoğlu chided the US, also citing disagreement over arrangements for YPG withdrawal from the city of Manbij in eastern Aleppo Province.
We got the impression that they want to enter a stalling process here as in Manbij. We need to reach an agreement regarding the safe zone as soon as possible because we have no patience left.
The Foreign Minister said a meeting of US military officials with a YPG leader on Monday, as Jeffrey was at the Foreign Ministry, showed the Americans were insincere.
“We Will Do What is Necessary”
The US Embassy maintained Jeffrey’s talks were “forthright, positive, and productive”:
There was an overall discussion on Syria and specifically for the northeast, both sides committed to accelerated and concrete progress on the Manbij roadmap, and discussed detailed proposals to enhance Turkey’s security along the Turkish border in northeast Syria.
But Çavuşoğlu reinforced the warning by noting that Ankara planned last December to launch cross-border operations, suspending them when Donald Trump said all US troops would be withdrawn from Syria.
We had a military operation (on the agenda) before, but we halted it over Trump’s request. Otherwise, we will do what is necessary ourselves and we are determined.
Committed to support of the SDF and to a position to check Iran’s presence propping up the Assad regime, the Pentagon chipped away at Trump’s impulsive order. No US troops have been withdrawn, and the ongoing deployment of an American force — both alongside the Kurdish-led SDF and at a base in Tanf near the Iraq and Jordan borders — has been confirmed.
Quoting Defense Minister Akar, his Minisry said, “We emphasized to [the Americans] once again that we have no tolerance for any delays, and that we will use our initiative if necessary.”
Pentagon spokesman Commander Sean Robertson pushed back:
We have made clear that unilateral military action into northeast Syria by any party, particularly as U.S. personnel may be present or in the vicinity, is of grave concern.
We would find any such actions unacceptable.