U.S.-Turkey safe zone deal could lead to increased violence - analysis

Unless the United States aims to bridge the differences between Turks and Kurds in northeastern Syria, the U.S.-Turkey plan to carve out a safe zone may fail to prevent another war, analyst Joe Macaron said in an analysis for Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

Ankara and Washington last week announced that they had agreed to establish a joint operations centre in Turkey to administer a safe zone in Syria, which Ankara sees as essential for its national security due to the threat posed by the Kurdish-held enclaves east of the Euphrates River.

Turkey says predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its armed wing, the Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG), are an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group also recognised by the United States as a terrorist organisation.

While the U.S.-Turkey deal has thus far prevented an Turkish attack against the YPG, the two most contentious issues in these talks remain unresolved, said Macaron, a fellow at the Arab Center in Washington.

The first issue is the depth of the safe zone. While Washington offered five km of demilitarised strip and an extra nine km free of heavy weapons, Ankara insisted on a 30-km-deep zone, Macaron said. Turkey also wants full control over the zone, while Washington prefers U.S. and European troops.

In addition, Russia could spoil the safe zone plan by escalating the clashes in Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in northern Syria, which hosts three million displaced people, the analyst said, while the Kurds could turn to Damascus for protection against Turkey. 

“The warring parties in northeast Syria are indeed more invested in consolidating their control over Syrian territories than maintaining peace and stability,” Macaron said. 

Knowing that the U.S. President Trump would like to avoid putting American troops at risk, Ankara might continue its threats to impose its demands, according to the analyst. The U.S.-Turkey deal addresses tensions in northeast Syria from a military and technical point, Macaron said. 

“If the U.S. does not deal hands-on with the tricky political issues, the two warring parties, Turkey and SDF, will ultimately fight it through in a direct war,” he said.