Turkey threatens to implement own plan for 'safe zone' in Syria

Turkey will put its own operation plan into effect if Turkish troops do not control a “safe zone” in northeast Syria within a few weeks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday.

"We do not have much time or patience regarding the safe zone which will be established along our entire border east of the Euphrates (river)," state-run Anadolu news agency quoted Erdoğan as saying, referring to safe zone plans with Washington.

Turkey and the United States have set up a joint operations centre in Turkey for a planned safe zone between the Turkish border and Syrian areas controlled by the U.S.-backed Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) militia. The agreement to form the centre, announced by both sides earlier this month, negated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s threat of an imminent military operation against the groups south of Turkey’s border.  However, the NATO allies remain at odds over the size and command structure of the zone.

"If our soldiers do not control the region within a few weeks, we are going to implement our own operation plan," Erdoğan said.

Turkey sees the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its affiliate, the YPG, as extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and has repeatedly said it plans to launch a military offensive against the YPG, which controls some enclaves in northeast Syria along the Turkish border. The YPG forms the backbone of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

Erdoğan on Thursday vowed Turkey would not allow Washington to delay the establishment of a “safe zone” in northern Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu said on Friday that the Turkish military would leave neighbouring Syria when a political solution is found, stressing however that the Syrian regime, at this time, doesn’t believe in political solution.

The Turkish president also spoke on Turkey’s air defence systems.

“Recently, NATO has failed to deliver on many issues including ensuring Turkey's security, though it still remains our ally in defence cooperation,” Erdogan said.

The United States in July expelled Turkey from the F-35 programme following its procurement of the Russian-made S-400 air defence systems. U.S. officials say the S-400 is incompatible with U.S. and NATO defences and have threatened Turkey with sanctions that can be imposed under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) if it installs the Russian system.

Turkey’s strongman went on to say that F-35 fighter jets are yet to be delivered to Turkey, even though their purchase had been completed.

‘’We can't wait to see what happens to us with our hands tied,” Erdoğan said, stressing that Turkey has no intention to abandon NATO membership and its allies.