The details of Turkey’s intended ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria has become ever more clearer in the past few days as Turkish officials have spoken publicly on the terms of a new agreement with the US. Ankara has said it would allow the use of its military airbases by the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS), in exchange for supporting Turkey in the establishment of this safe zone.
Turkish officials said yesterday that the establishment of the safe zone is only "a matter of time", as the statement released by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavisoglu Wednesday suggests the possibility of applying the plan soon.
Speaking to the press after a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Cavisoglu said: "We will start together, over a short period, a comprehensive operation against ISIS," marking the beginning of operations targeting ISIS in northern Syria, and the establishment of an ISIS-free area as a prelude to the planned safe zone.
Turkish officials say the safe zone will extend from Carchemish in the countryside of Aleppo, westward toward Afrin. The zone would be 140 kilometers long and 50 kilometers deep, and is assumed that full protection will be guaranteed in these areas from any possible attack, by the Syrian regime or any other party.
Although no clear statements have been made about which forces would replace ISIS in the area, indications reflect Turkey's rejection of the presence of Kurdish troops in this zone, while the US rejects the presence of extremist factions including the Nusra Front.
Turkish researcher and political analyst, Zahid Gul, said: "Kurdish forces or Nusra fighters would not be permitted inside the safe zone, as Turkey would not accept the presence of Kurdish forces in the area, due to the fact that some of them are still linked to the Assad regime, as is the case with some Kurdish factions in Hassakeh".
It is apparent that Turkey would also refuse the presence of Kurdish forces in the safe due to the toxic relationship between Turkey and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as Turkey considers Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party an extension of the PKK.
Designated as a terrorist organization by the US, the Nusra Front has also recently faced airstrikes by the US-led international coalition.
Gul says that both the Kurds and Nusra will be a threat to the existence of the zone, and as such, their presence there is improbable. Gul did not rule out that Kurds and Nusra might be targeted if they attempted to enter the safe zone. Turkmen fighters may be the dominating force in the safe zone, as well as some other factions in the Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) operations room, added Gul.
Some analysts point to the possibility that the Ahrar ash-Sham Islamic Movement may also have a noticeable presence inside the zone, but Gul believes that the presence of the Movement would probably be limited to the borders of the zone, not within it.
The Executive Steps
The safe zone will likely observe several developments before its official declaration, as it is expected that the Syrian north will witness direct confrontation between Turkey and ISIS in the near future. "Turkish air forces and heavy artillery will have a decisive role in these confrontations", Gul added.
According to Turkish officials, ground operations will be launched very soon, beginning with attacks on ISIS locations in the cities of Izaz and Carchemish, which will open space for opposition forces to take advantage of the air cover and seize ISIS-held areas.
Turkish officials said the safe zone might also become a big step towards expelling regime forces from regime-held areas in Aleppo, due to their proximity to the proposed zone. Observers suggest the safe zone may thus become a protected area for coordination between the opposition forces to launch their military operations against regime forces.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer