One of the most important goals of the joint air campaign against Daesh, as part of a deal between Turkeyand the U.S., is to push the terror group away from Turkey’s border with Syria.
The creation of a safety zone in northern Syria will give refugees fleeing the fighting instigated by Daesh and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad a haven and allow aid agencies to operate unhindered.
Removing Daesh from the land bordering Turkey will also bolster national security.
Earlier this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced an agreement between Turkeyand the U.S. over joint air operations against Daesh.
On Saturday, the Foreign Ministry confirmed Turkey’s first airstrikes as part of the U.S.-led coalition. It followed Ankara’s decision last month to open the Incirlik air base to coalition aircraft.
Meanwhile, Turkish authorities continue to stress the significance of establishing a safety zone for Turkey’s border security.
Safety zone coordinates
An area between Jarabulus and Azaz in Aleppo province, across the border from Turkey’s southern Gaziantep province, has been under Daesh control for nearly two-and-a-half years.
The Jarabulus to Azaz line will mark the east-west axis of the safety zone, which will be out in place once the international coalition clears the area of Daesh militants.
The U.S. prefers to avoid the term safety zone as the Obama administration fears it could bring political, military and legal responsibilities.
However, in a recent news briefing, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook did not reiterate the previous denial of plans for a safety zone despite being pressed on the issue.
As Daesh is forced south by the coalition air campaign, a safety zone will be protected by air power and on the ground through moderate opposition fighters such as the Free Syrian Army.
The depth of the zone into Syrian territory will be determined by military planners as events unfold on the ground.
Safety zone expectations
The violence and oppression of the Syrian regime and Daesh against Syria’s civilian population rages on as the civil war enters its fifth year.
It is predicted that Syrians, looking for a way out, will continue to head north to Turkey as they seek refuge.
Clearing the region adjacent to Turkey between Jarabulus and Azaz and establishing a protected area is designed to provide a home for displaced Syrians.
Vital to the success of the scheme will be the standard of living conditions for Syrians within the zone. A high standard of accommodation and access to food, water and other services will be an important incentive for Syrian migrants currently living in Turkey under temporary protected status to return to their homeland.
The presence of moderate opposition forces will make it easier to provide essential public services and distribute humanitarian aid.
PYD forces barred entry
The anticipated safety zone is also an objective of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish-Syrian group whose forces recently seized Tell Abyad, a border city approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Daesh’s de facto capital Raqqa, allowing the Kurds to link two areas they already controlled — Kobani and Hasakah.
The PYD — linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is deemed a terror organization by Turkey, the U.S. and EU — would link the isolated area they control around Afrin in northwestern Syria to Kobani if they were able to seize the territory being considered for the safe zone.
This would give the group control over the entire Turkish-Syrian border. Other opposition forces, such as the Free Syrian Army and Ahrar ash-Sham, are opposed to the PYD moving west of the Euphrates River to occupy the area as this would cut off their access to the Turkish border.
Turkey, while noting that PYD positions would not be targeted during the anti-Daesh campaign, has repeated its warning for the group not to force non-Kurdish ethnic groups such as Turkmen and Arabs from the regions it controls.
Turkish diplomatic sources say U.S. officials agree that PYD forces should not enter the safe zone once it is free of Daesh militants. The PYD has reportedly been warned by both Washington and Ankara not to move west of Euphrates, not to expel non-Kurds and allow the return of Turkmen and Arabs who fled their homes.
Turkmen’s existence tied to safety zone
It is expected that the safety zone will eliminate the threat posed to the Turkmen population, which is spread across Syria but concentrated in Aleppo province.
When the PYD took control Tell Abyad, it reportedly encouraged Turkmen and Arab families to leave by telling them they would be targeted by anti-Daesh coalition airstrikes if they remained.