Turkey’s Syria safe zone could become terrorist safe haven - analyst

The idea of resettling millions of refugees in Turkey’s so-called safe zone in northern Syria is unfeasible and will likely create a safe haven for terrorists and spark a humanitarian disaster, correspondent Adnan R. Khan wrote for Canadian news magazine MacLean’s.

When Turkey launched its cross-border offensive in northeast Syria on Oct. 9, it said it was addressing a crucial security concern by targeting fighters with links to outlawed Kurdish insurgents within its own borders.

But the real reason for the offensive was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s fall in opinion polls, Khan said.

This decline in popularity, which saw Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lose five of Turkey’s most populous provinces in this year’s local elections, has been blamed on public disaffection at government policies that have seen 3.6 million Syrians settle in Turkey.

Erdoğan has promised to create what he calls a safe zone in the northern Syrian territories captured in the military operation and use it to rehouse a large number of those refugees.

But the safe zone would also likely become home to members of jihadist groups that could use it as a launch pad for further operations, Khan quoted a Canadian analyst and former diplomat, Chris Kilford, as saying.

This would raise the risk to any UN peacekeeping force tasked with guarding the safe zone, Khan said, adding that Turkey would be unlikely to invest the resources necessary to prevent it from devolving into chaos.

“Instead, it has relied on ground forces made up of its own proxies, mainly Arab militiamen, many of whom are reported to be jihadist militants themselves,” Khan said.

“And yet, Turkey continues to claim it invaded northern Syria to rid the area of terrorists and set up a safe zone for refugees. Instead, it has set in motion events that will create a safe haven for terrorists and a humanitarian crisis for refugees.”