Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar (L) with US Syria envoy James Jeffrey, Ankara, July 22, 2019 (Daily Sabah)
Expecting Turkish cross-border operations into mainly-Kurdish areas of northeast Syria, the US is tabling a “final offer” over Ankara’s proposal for a “safe zone”.
A high-level Defense Department delegation will present the proposal on Monday in Ankara.
Turkey and the US have maneuvered for months after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan proposed a 40-km (25-mile) deep zone, following Donald Trump’s impulsive announcement that all US troops would be withdrawn from Syria.
The Pentagon and other US officials have pushed back against Trump, and US forces remain alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. However, Ankara has maintained its call for the 40-km zone, with the Kurdish militia YPG fully withdrawing. The US is proposing a much smaller zone.
The US envoy to Syria James Jeffrey will also propose a joint US-Turkish operation, with joint patrols and the destruction of YPG fortifications between the Euphrates River and the Iraq border — about 1/3 of the 140-km (87-mile) long zone.
US Special Representative for Syria Amb. Jeffrey: "The Turks want a deeper zone than the one that we think makes sense. In our case, it’s between 5 & 14 kilometers with heavy weapons drawn further back & there are some disagreements or some differences of opinion I would say…" https://t.co/vlcoSEyLpX
— Ryan Browne (@rabrowne75) August 2, 2019
Turkey, which has put thousands of troops on the border, says its troops will secure the area alone.
Erdoğan said Sunday that Ankara had not been deterred from interventions to take Islamic State territory and much of the Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwest Syria. He continued:
Now we are going to enter east of the Euphrates. We have shared this with Russia and the United States.We can only be patient for so long.
The Government-linked Daily Sabah headlines this morning, “Ankara Steadfast on Safe Zone as Washington Flip-flops on Issue”, and declares, “Not First Time for US to Act Unpredictably”.
Kurdish Warning Over ISIS Prisoners
The US military’s options have been limited, if Turkey pursues military operation, because Administration officials have said they cannot intervene under existing authority from Congress to protect the YPG.
The Kurdish militia is the leading faction in the Syrian Democratic Forces, which has removed the Islamic State from the northeast. Ankara considers the YPG to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK, which has fought security forces for more than 30 years.
Kurdish officials say that, if Turkey attacks, they cannot guard prisons with 10,000 Islamic State fighters captured during the battles in the northeast.
Aldar Xelil, a leading Kurdish politician, said “either we will fight” the Turks “or guard” the prisoners: “We cannot do both together.”
Honestly, we are not using ISIS prisoners as a card….But maybe we are going to lose control here….These are not like formal prisons; some of them are just schools where we built a wall and converted it into a prison.
He said Kurdish forces agreed with the US military to withdraw three miles from the border