ANKARA: A Turkish and American joint military operations center for a Syrian “safe zone” will be fully activated next week, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced on Friday.
US military officials recently arrived in Turkey’s border province of Sanliurfa to prepare the center, establish a safe zone in northern Syria and address Ankara’s security concerns along its southern border.
Oubai Shahbandar, a defense analyst at the New America think tank, believes that the development of a safe zone will raise hopes for regional peace.
“A safe zone means that hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees can one day return without fear of the Assad regime destroying their homes,” he told Arab News.
According to Shahbandar, the center means that Ankara and Washington are close to reaching a geopolitical solution for their mutual security concerns in Syria.
The center is set to serve as a platform for negotiations between Turkey and the US, two NATO allies who clash on the presence of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, a US partner in their fight against Daesh.
However, Ankara considers the YPG as an offshoot of the PKK, a Kurdish insurgent group that has waged war against the Turkish state for almost four decades.
The PKK is a designated terrorist organization according to the US and the EU.
It is unclear whether the new military center will serve to halt a potential third military offensive by Turkey into northern Syria or if it is designed to mend ties between Ankara and Washington.
One thing is clear: The US is giving a lot of attention to the security of the zone, where about 900 to 2,000 of its troops are currently stationed.
“Turkey won’t let the US interrupt operations east of the Euphrates like they did in Manbij,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently said in a speech.
The Manbij deal between Turkey and the US focused on the withdrawal of the YPG from the city, but progress soon stalled.
However, Mehmet Emin Cengiz, a research assistant at the Al-Sharq Forum in Istanbul, said that Turkish and American perspectives on the safe zone do not overlap to a large extent.
“What Turkey wants to create is a safe zone, from which it can undermine the administrative and security mechanism of the YPG/PYD/SDF step by step. However, from an American perspective, the zone should be a ‘buffer zone’ in which it can protect the PYD/SDF,” he told Arab News.
Cengiz added that the two sides will try to find mechanisms to administer the divergences with regard to northeastern Syria and that the joint military operation center is important to achieve this.
“The center has the potential to mend the ties of both sides if they succeed in reaching a consensus on details of the planned safe zone.
“If the safe zone will be established in three phases, and if the security of the planned area will be provided by the local military councils, the US would find a chance to mend ties with Turkey,” Cengiz said.
While the deal can help alleviate Turkey’s security concerns, Cengiz assesses that a real transition of power to the local military councils would contribute to the localization project of the YPG.
“A transition of power to local actors has the potential to lessen the YPG/SDF dependence on the PKK,” he added.