United States and Turkish government officials have reached an agreement to a ‘safe zone’ near the Turkey-Syria border. The agreement is expected to strongly increase the scope of America’s air campaign against ISIS in Syria. The deal was announced early Monday. The agreement includes a plan to drive the Islamic State out of a 68-mile-long area west of the Euphrates River and reaching into the province of Aleppo that would then come under the control of the Syrian opposition.
If the United States fully implements the agreement it would lead to military aircraft within proximity of Syrian military installations and would also benefit the opposition force fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The agreement does not completely meet all of Turkey’s demands which have called for a no-fly zone but the safe zone could be used as a safe haven for the more than 2 million Syrian civilians who have fled to Turkey for refuge.
The deal comes a week after Turkey approved U.S. forces access to fly out of its base in Incirlik. Turkish forces have continually flown missions into northern Syria. Officials are still working out some of the details including the Syrian opposition forces who are expected to hold the safe zone. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke to reporters on Saturday saying, “When areas in northern Syria are cleared of the [Islamic State] threat, the safe zones will be formed naturally,” “People who have been displaced can be placed in those safe areas.”
U.S. officials confirmed that American and coalition air support would operate around the clock as ISIS targets were located. United States said they would not “officially’ designated the 68 mile stretch of border a protected zone. An anonymous White House official released a statement saying that a joint military effort will not include the enforcement of a no-fly zone.
The Obama administration has long resisted establishing Syrian safe zones, protected by U.S. and coalition air power, and has said its air operations would target only the Islamic State. The Pentagon has maintained that targeting regions of western Syria, near where the government is fighting numerous rebel and militant groups, could provoke a clash with Syrian air defenses that are centered in that area.
The safe zone stretches from the city of Azaz to Jarablus, on the Euphrates. Once the area is cleared, the plan is to give control to as-yet-unidentified moderate Syrian rebel groups. Turkish and US officials can’t agree on which groups are “moderate.’ The head of the Kurdish group that has been benefiting from the U.S. strikes expressed concern that the plan for the zone would eventually lead to the entry of Turkish troops in the area.
Syria’s Democratic Union Party has often accused Turkey of supporting ISIS to fight back Kurdish influence and said that any Turkish forces entering Syria would be viewed as invaders. The Kurdistan Workers Party wants to establish a Kurdish state in the area that includes parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. The U.S. government has labeled the party as a terrorist organization.