U.S. military impressed by coordination with Turkey over northern Syria safe zone

A senior U.S. military official praised the progress achieved in joint Turkish-U.S. efforts to establish a safe zone in northeast Syria, Voice of America (VOA) reported on Thursday.

"I am constantly impressed by what the CJOC [Combined Joint Operation Center] has achieved in such a short period of time," VOA quoted Brigadier General Christian Wortman during a press briefing.

CJOC was established last month in Turkey’s border town of Akçakale in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa to coordinate efforts for a planned safe zone in northern Syria, which Turkey says is essential for its national security due to threats from Kurdish-held territories in northeast Syria.

Turkey sees the People's Protection Units (YPG) as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an armed group that has been fighting inside Turkey for more than three decades. The YPG forms the backbone of U.S.-led coalition forces fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

But despite the establishment of a joint operations centre and the start of joint patrols, the U.S. and Turkish officials still have disparities about the name and the size of the proposed safe zone and who will control it.

The U.S. military officials use the term"security mechanism" to describe the joint U.S.-Turkish efforts in Syria, while the Turkish side refers to "a safe zone".

"The intention of this 'security mechanism' is to address Turkey's legitimate security concerns and preserve conditions to continue cooperation to defeat ISIS, while fostering conditions that reduce the risk of violence and instability that would be counterproductive to all parties," Wortman said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday criticised setbacks over the implementation of the planned safe zone, saying that if Turkey gets no results in the next two weeks, it will put its own plan into effect.

"I can tell you that the United States is fully committed to addressing Turkey's legitimate security concerns," U.S. director of CJOC said, adding that full implementation will take time. 

Days after the buffer zone agreement was announced, Turkish officials said they planned to relocate some 700,000 Syrians there and Erdoğan on Monday said 3 million Syrian refugees could be repatriated to the safe zone, quadrupling the previously proposed number.

"The principles that we look for with refugees are safe, voluntary and dignified movements of refugees — that individuals are either moving home or a place of their choosing," VOA quoted Brigadier General Scott Naumann as saying.