|Date: Aug 19, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|U.S.-Turkey Syria operations center starts next week|
|Agence France Presse|
ANKARA: A U.S.-Turkey operations center aimed at creating a safe zone in northern Syria to manage tensions between Ankara and a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia will be fully operational by next week, the Turkish defense minister said earlier Friday.
“We have reached a general agreement on the coordination and control of air space and on numerous other matters,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said during a visit to the southeastern province of Sanliurfa where he inspected military troops chosen to participate in the new scheme.
Earlier this week a U.S. delegation visited southern Turkey to work on getting the center started, and Turkish drones began carrying out work in the area where the safe zone will be created, the Defense Ministry said.
The joint center, agreed last week after several days of tense negotiations, “will be working at full capacity from next week,” Akar said on his website.
A U.S. delegation has been at work in Sanliurfa since Monday.
The joint operations center will help organize a “safe zone” in northern Syria aimed at creating a buffer between the Turkish border and areas controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria.
Turkey has repeatedly threatened to launch an assault east of the Euphrates River against the YPG, which it says is a “terrorist” offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.
But Washington has worked closely with the YPG in the fight against Daesh (ISIS).
Little is known about the size of the safe zone and how it will work, but Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday that there would be observation posts and joint patrols.
He said U.S. President Donald Trump had previously promised it would be 32 kilometers wide.
The timetable agreed with Washington has so far been honored, Akar said, adding that “we expect that to continue.”
Turkey has the highest number of Syrian refugees in the world at more than 3.6 million, and has faced increasing pressure domestically to speed up repatriations to peaceful parts of the country.
It has twice carried out unilateral offensives into northern Syria against Daesh and YPG, in 2016 and 2018.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 17, 2019, on page 7.