A US-Turkey operations centre aimed at creating a safe zone in northern Syria to manage tensions between Ankara and a US-backed Kurdish militia will be fully operational next week, the Turkish defence minister said Friday.
“We have reached a general agreement on the coordination and control of air space and on numerous other matters,” Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said during a visit to the southeastern province of Sanliurfa where he inspected troops chosen to participate in the new scheme.
The joint centre, agreed last week after days of tense negotiations, “will be working at full capacity from next week,” Akar said on his website.
A US delegation has been at work in Sanliurfa since Monday.
The joint operations centre will help organise a “safe zone” in northern Syriaaimed 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 the IS group.
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 US President Donald Trump had previously promised it would be 32 kilometres (20 miles) wide.
The timetable agreed with Washington has so far been honoured, said Akar, adding that “we expect that to continue”.
Syrian Refugees in Turkey
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 the Islamic State group and YPG, in 2016 and 2018.