U.S. officials visit southeast Turkey to coordinate Syria safe zone

A U.S. delegation met with Turkish officials on Wednesday in the two countries’ joint operations centre in the southeast border town of Akçakale to discuss details for a planned safe zone in Syria, Turkey’s Defence Ministry said

Deputy Commander of U.S European Command Lt. Gen. Stephen Twitty and Deputy Commander of U.S. Central Command Lt. Gen. Thomas Bergeson were in Şanlıurfa province after visiting the headquarters of the Turkish General Staff in Ankara on Tuesday. 

“Coordination and consultation between the U.S. and Turkey are key to addressing Turkey’s legitimate security concerns in the region. The U.S. and Turkey are working together to rapidly implement the security mechanism and are on time or ahead of schedule in many areas,” the U.S. Central Command said in a written statement on Monday. 

Turkey sees the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its affiliate People Protection Units (YPG) as offshoots of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has fought an insurgency in Turkey for more than three decades. SDF fighters were active on the Syrian side of the border while Twitty and Bergeson were visiting the joint operations centre, according to Turkish  pro-government outlet A Haber.

Turkey has repeatedly blamed its NATO ally for ignoring Turkey’s concerns by supplying military equipment to the SDF, which has led the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. 

“Continued success of the security mechanism will prevent ISIS from reemerging in northeast Syria and allows the Coalition and our SDF partners to remain focused on defeating ISIS,” U.S. CENTCOM said. 

Following months of negotiations, Turkey and the United States agreed on the establishment of the safe zone last month, though there is still uncertainty about the size of the proposed zone. Turkish and U.S. troops began joint patrols in Syria on Sunday as part of the first phase of the planned zone.