Turkish-U.S. deal over Syria safe zone a baby step, retired U.S. general says

A deal between Turkey and the United States agreed on Wednesday for the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria is only a baby step as both sides still differ over several issues, said retired U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt on Bloomberg television on Thursday. 

Turkey and the United States have been discussing the establishment of the safe zone along the border inside Syria since the end of last year. Turkey has demanded the zone against what it calls a terrorist threat posed by Syrian Kurdish forces controlling parts of the border area.

After months of negotiations, the NATO allies announced on Wednesday that they had agreed to establish a joint operation in Turkey to further efforts for the planned safe zone. 

“Not really, what we have is a baby step,” said Kimmitt when asked about the deal. “We still have a long way to go,” he said. 

Turkey sees the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian Kurdish force that controls much of northeast Syria, as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been fighting inside Turkey since 1984. The YPG forms the backbone of the U.S.-led coalition forces that defeated Islamic State in Syria.

Kimmitt said the deal showed the two sides now had come a little closer to a safe zone plan, but they were still nowhere close to solving the specific problems with the YPG, or the larger issues between two countries.

The Turkish-U.S. statement did not provide information about the extent of the safe zone, while it said the efforts would aim for the safe return of some 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. 

“Who is going to be inside of it? Who won’t be allowed inside of it? How will we get Syrian refugees back inside of it?” Kimmitt asked. “So we’ve got a long way to go before we even start popping the champagne corks.”

Meanwhile recently retired Turkish Brigadier General Erdal Şener said the deal effectively prevented a fresh Turkish military operation on the east of River Euphrates in Syria, Cumhuriyet newspaper reported on Friday. The Turkish-U.S. statement “was made to lower the tensions of the public,” he said. 

Şener said his experience in joint U.S.-Turkish patrols around Manbij, a northern Syrian town controlled by Kurds, showed the safe zone plans were just a dream. “We did not enter inside Manbij even a single day. They were just patrols to save face,” he said.