U.S.-Turkey safe zone could spur ethnic cleansing and ISIS’ resurgence - analysis

The United States’ alignment with Turkey in Syria could lead to an Islamic State (ISIS) resurgence and ethnic cleansing of Syrian Kurds from the proposed safe zone, said an analysis on Monday for the Jerusalem Post. 

Washington’s main objective in Syria is ISIS’ defeat, and its main ally in this effort is the mainly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). But in beginning to drawdown its forces and agreeing with Turkey to carve out a safe zone it has put its allies in danger and jeopardised its primary objective, according to commentator Robert Ellis. 

“After the loss of its territorial caliphate ISIS has, with an estimated 14,000 -18,000 followers in Syria and Iraq, turned to hit-and-run tactics: assassinations, ambushes, suicide bombings and burning fields and crops,” said Ellis. “Furthermore, the drawdown has decreased the resources and support needed for counter-insurgency operations.”

Meanwhile, the SDF is holding 10,000 ISIS fighters in detention centres in northeastern Syria, but does not have the capability to hold them indefinitely, according to Ellis. 

“Russia, Iran, the Syrian regime and ISIS have also sought to foment Arab discontent with SDF administration in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor province,” said Ellis. 

Ankara, which sees the SDF as linked to an armed insurgent group inside Turkey, invaded Afrin in early 2018 and displaced nearly 170,000 people, mostly Kurds. 

“Matters have come to a head over a planned Turkish incursion into the Kurdish areas east of the Euphrates,” said Ellis. “To avoid a collision the U.S. and Turkey have agreed on a ‘peace corridor,’ which will lead to the establishment of a safe zone in these areas.”

Disagreements remain over the size of the safe zone and about which forces will maintain control, while Turkish officials have said that they would take unilateral action if an agreement could not be reached, according to Ellis. 

Ankara plans to relocate 700,000 of its 3.6 million Syrian refugees to the projected safe zone, even as Washington has made clear it is opposed to their forced return. 

“Nevertheless, if the U.S. agrees to Turkey’s plans for ‘a peace corridor’, it will not only betray its Kurdish allies but also be a party to ethnic cleansing,” said Ellis. 

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