WASHINGTON,— An agreement between the United States and Turkey to establish a safe zone in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) in northern Syria will be implemented gradually, with some operations beginning soon, a Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday.
“We are currently reviewing options for the Joint Coordination Center with our Turkish military counterparts,” Defense Department spokesman Commander Sean Robertson told AFP.
“The security mechanism will be implemented in stages,” Robertson said.
“The United States is prepared to begin implementing some activities rapidly as we continue discussions with Turkey.”
According to terms of the hard-won agreement between Ankara and Washington reached last week, authorities will use the coordination center, located in Turkey, to organize a safe zone in northern Syria.
The goal of the zone is to create a buffer between the Turkish border and areas controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — which is supported by the US but is classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey.
But retired general Joseph Votel, the former chief of US troops in the Middle East, has publicly opposed Ankara’s control of such a zone.
In an opinion piece published on The National Interest’s website Monday, Votel, who headed the US Central Command until last March, warned that he thinks a Syrian security zone controlled by Turkey would “create more problems for all parties involved.”
Central Command Commander Gen.
Joseph Votel, Washington, March 7, 2019.
“Safe zones are generally established to protect people in conflict zones and are usually designed to be neutral, demilitarized, and focused on humanitarian purposes,” Votel wrote in the article with George Washington University Turkey expert Gonul Tol.
“Imposing a twenty-mile-deep (30 kilometer) safe zone east of the Euphrates would have the opposite effect — likely displacing more than 90 percent of the Syrian Kurdish population, exacerbating what is already an extremely challenging humanitarian situation, and creating an environment for increased conflict,” they wrote.
Syrian Kurds — who have played a key role in the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group — have established an autonomous region in Syrian Kurdistan (northeast Syria) amid the country’s brutal civil war.
In 2013, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party PYD — the political branch of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — has established three autonomous Cantons of Jazeera, Kobani and Afrin and a Kurdish government across Syrian Kurdistan in 2013. On March 17, 2016, Kurdish authorities announced the creation of a “federal region” made up of those semi-autonomous regions in Syrian Kurdistan.
But as the fight against IS winds down in the region, the prospect of a US military withdrawal stoked Kurdish fears of a long-threatened Turkish attack.
Turkey has already carried out two cross-border offensives into Syria in 2016 and 2018, the second of which saw it and allied Syrian rebels overrun the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in the northwest.
Turkey fears the creation of a Kurdish autonomous region or Kurdish state in Syrian Kurdistan could encourage separatism amongst its own Kurds, according to analysts.
In 2016, the Turkish troops entered northern Syria in an area some 100 km east of Afrin to stop the Kurdish YPG forces from extending areas under their control and connecting Syrian Kurdistan’s Kobani and Hasaka in the east with Afrin canton in the west.
In January 2018, Turkish military forces backed pro-Ankara Syrian mercenary fighters to clear the YPG from its northwestern enclave of Afrin. In March 2018, the operation was completed with the capture of the Kurdish city of Afrin.
The flags of Turkey and pro-Ankara Syrian groups were raised in the Kurdish Afrin city and a statue of Kurdish hero Kawa, a symbol of resistance against oppressors, was torn down.
Residents of the Kurdish city and Human right groups accuse Turkey and pro-Ankara fighters of kidnappings for ransom, armed robberies and torture.
Washington has for years supported the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria, as part of an international anti-jihadist coalition dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
President Donald Trump abruptly announced the pullout from Syria.
The Kurdish PYD and its powerful military wing YPG/YPJ, considered the most effective fighting force against IS in Syria and U.S.
has provided them with arms. The YPG, which is the backbone of the SDF forces, has seized swathes of Syria from Islamic State.
The Kurdish YPG forces expelled the Islamic State group from its last patch of territory in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz in March 2019.
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