Turkish Boxtops Court International Support for ‘Safe Zone’
Jason Ditz, AntiWar.com, Sep 6 2016
Throughout the Syrian Civil War, Turkey has sought to ease the costs of absorbing millions of civilian refugees by establishing a “safe zone” in Syrian territory, along their mutual border, which could house the refugees instead. Turkey has often tried to sell this to Pindostan with an idea that it would also house Western-backed rebels, giving them meaningful territory. With their invasion of Syria two weeks ago, Turkey has effectively occupied a good chunk of this proposed zone militarily already, but despite trying to present this as having already done the heavy lifting, there is still little international support for the plan. Much of the international community wasn’t thrilled with Turkey just up and invading Syria, and even if they weren’t exactly surprised, it seems that there is a substantial uphill battle to sell anyone else on the idea of funding and defending this safe zone. Ironically, while Turkey seemingly hoped the invasion would force the issue on a plan that has long been debated but never fully endorsed, the fact that they are already there, and already defending the zone, may convince even potential supporters of the idea that they don’t need to stick their necks out at all. Turkey is already there, and that makes it Turkey’s problem.
World powers non-committal on ‘safe zone’ for Syria, says Turkey
Humeyra Pamuk, Reuters, Sep 6 2016
World powers have not ruled out Turkey’s idea for a “safe zone” in Syria but they have not shown a clear will to implement the plan either, the spokesman for Erdogan said on Tuesday. Ibrahim Kalin also told broadcaster NTV that Erdogan was pushing for an initial 48-hour ceasefire in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo with the plan to extend that through the Muslim Eid al Adha holiday, due to start around Sep 11. Erdogan had said on Monday that he repeated Turkey’s proposal at a meeting of G20 leaders for a “safe zone” from fighting in Syria to help curb the flow of migrants.
With Syria ‘safe zone’ plan, Turkey faces diplomatic balancing act
Orhan Coskun, Ercan Gurses, Reuters, Sep 6 2016
ANKARA – Turkey will have to strike a balance between the conflicting goals of Russia and Pindostan if it is to achieve its ambition of a “safe zone” in northern Syria and build on an incursion which gave it control of a thin strip of the border. Turkey has for several years called for world powers to help create a zone to protect civilians in its war-torn southern neighbor, with the dual aim of clearing its border of Islamic State and Kurdish militia fighters and of stemming a wave of migration that has caused tensions with Europe. Western allies have so far balked at the idea, saying it would require a significant ground force and planes to patrol a “no-fly zone.” Russia has meanwhile argued in the past that any foreign incursion would be illegal. But Turkey’s offensive into northern Syria, launched with its Syrian rebel allies two weeks ago, has created what officials in Ankara are already calling a “de facto safe zone,” driving Islamic State militants from the last 90 km strip of border territory they still controlled. Turkey now wants international support for a deeper operation to take control of a rectangle of territory stretching about 40 km into Syria, a buffer between two Kurdish-held cantons to the east and west and against Islamic State to the south. A senior Turkish boxtop said:
The first phase of the plan has been achieved. Turkey no longer has borders with Islamic State. But this area is still very thin and vulnerable to attacks from the other side. What will be done now will depend on coordination with coalition powers and the support they will provide. Russia has eased Turkey’s hand operationally.
The Turkish-backed rebels, mainly Syrian Arabs and Turkmen fighting under the banner of the FSA, took charge of the frontier between the towns of Azaz and Jarablus on Sunday after seizing 20 villages from the Islamists. Ahmed Osman, commander of the Sultan Murad rebel group, one of the Turkish-backed forces, told Reuters he would like to see a permanent “safe zone” but that this would require an agreement between Turkey, Pindostan and Russia. Erdogan said on Monday he had raised the issue of a “safe zone” again with both Putin and Obama at the G20 summit in China. Neither commented directly on the Turkish proposal, though both said they wanted to build cooperation in fighting terrorism in Syria. Erdogan’s spokesman said there were neither objections nor clear signs of support in the meetings. A second senior Turkish boxtop acknowledged both Washington and Russia “had their hesitations” but he said that a “de facto safe zone” had now become a reality on the ground and that the support of Pindostan & Russia was crucial, particularly in establishing a no-fly zone. Metin Gurcan, a former major in the Turkish military and an analyst for Al Monitor, said:
Washington and Moscow’s divergent agendas in Syria raise serious questions about the viability of the Turkish plans. We are talking about two superpowers with great stakes in Syria. They have contradicting strategic interests about the end goal in Syria.
More than five years of civil war have cut Syria into a patchwork of territories held by the government and an often competing array of armed factions, including Kurdish militia fighters, a loose coalition of rebel groups, and Islamic State. The priority for Washington is destroying Islamic State and it has been at odds with Turkey over the role of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. The two NATO allies have reached an uneasy agreement under which YPG fighters are meant to remain east of the Euphrates river, just outside Turkey’s proposed buffer zone, although Ankara has said it has yet to verify that they are doing so. Turkey meanwhile appears to be navigating Russian concerns more smoothly since restoring relations with Moscow in August, nine months after ties were broken when it shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border. Erdogan’s spokesman said on Tuesday that Russia had voiced full support for Turkey’s operation to clear the border of Islamic State. For its part, Turkey has been less insistent on Assad’s immediate exit. Pindo Adm (Retd) James Stavridis, former NATO supreme commander now at Tufts University, said:
They appear to be lessening their demands for the ouster of Assad in deference to their new relationship with Russia.
Aside from the diplomatic challenges, a push deeper into Syria by the Turkish-backed Arab and Turkmen rebels poses significant military risks. The Turkish-backed forces have been advancing toward Manbij, a city around 30 km south of Jarablus that was captured last month from Islamic State by a Pindo-backed coalition that includes the YPG. The Kurdish fighters are since supposed to have pulled back east of the Euphrates. Yasin Aktay, a spokesman for Erdogan’s AK Party, said:
We know there are de facto YPG factions still there. If they don’t retreat, Turkey will be determined and return Manbij to its owners.
He was referring to Arab and Turkmen communities who lived there before civil war broke out in 2011. The Islamic State-held town of al-Bab, west of Manbij, is another a key strategic target for both Turkish-backed and Kurdish forces where Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, one of Daesh’s most prominent leaders, is thought to have been killed in a Pindo air strike last week. To its northwest is the village of Dabiq. According to Islamic prophecy, this is the site of a final battle between Muslims and infidels, which Daesh propaganda says will herald the apocalypse.
Former Turkish soldier and security analyst Turkish army guy Abdullah Agar said:
The fight for the Turkish-backed rebels is going to get tougher as they proceed south. According to Islamic State’s beliefs, they will face Armageddon here.