The US and Turkish government have agreed to create a strategic safe zone on the Syrian-Turkish border to combat “IS” militants. The move comes as Ankara makes a dramatic shift in its policy towards the terrorists.
The plan foresees the creation of a buffer zone out of a 68-mile (109 kilometer) stretch of land still under IS control, a senior Obama administration official told the press on Monday. The zone would provide a haven not only for tens of thousands of displaced Syrians, though the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, was careful to say no strategy had been finalized.
By doign so, the plan would also push an until-recently reluctant Turkey into the forefront of an international coalition battling the jihadists, and potentially set the stage for conflict with the US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces also operating in the area, with whom Turkey has a history of animosity due its stance with regards to its own Kurdish minority.
Now that Turkey has allowed the US-led coalition to launch its airstrikes against the militant extremists from near the Syrian border, the coalition hopes to step up its attacks against IS targets and clear them from the new buffer zone.
A different US official said that the plan would not include the imposition of a no-fly zone, despite calls from Turkey to create one. The Obama administration has long rejected the idea, saying it would drag US forces deeper into the Syrian Civil War.
Ankara’s tactical shift towards engagement
Although the specifics of the safe zone plan have not been announced, Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has confirmed that neither his government nor the one in Washington indeed to send ground troops in Syria, though they both want Syria’s moderate rebels forces to replace the IS presence on the border with Turkey.
“Moderate forces like the Free Syrian Army will be strengthened, a structure will be created so that they can take control of areas freed from ISIL, air cover will be provided. It would be impossible for them to take control of the area without it,” Davutoglu told Turkish television, using an alternative acronym for IS.
Turkey has called a meeting with its NATO allies on Tuesday to discuss the increasing threat posed by IS to Turkish security. Ankara has made a major tactical shift in the past week with regards to IS, not only allowing the US the use of Incirlik but also striking military targets in Syria following the first IS-linked suicide bombing on Turkish soil. The attack at a cultural center in the town of Suruc killed 32 activists who had been planning to help rebuild the Syrian town of Kobani after IS forces were driven from it a few months ago.
es/kms (AP, Reuters)