Turkey to create safe zone by itself if can’t come to agreement with US, Defense Min. says

A Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army fighter holds a makeshift Turkish flag as he patrols on a road near Azaz, Syria January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Turkey will have to form the safe zone in northern Syria by itself if it cannot come to an agreement with the U.S., Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told his American counterpart on Monday.

Akar held a phone call with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, telling him one more time that Turkey expects the U.S. to fully withdraw its support from the PKK terrorist organization’s Syrian offshoot People’s Protection Units (YPG)-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“If Turkey, U.S. don’t find common ground, Ankara will be obliged to create a safe zone on its own,” Akar said.

In a statement, the ministry said Akar congratulated Mark Esper for officially becoming the new U.S. defense secretary.

Akar reiterated once again that Ankara will not allow a terror corridor south of Turkey and that Turkey wants to assure safety and security of not only its country and people but also other religious and ethnic groups like the Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Christians and Yazidis living in the region.

The defense minister also noted that Turkey is the only competent and efficient power to provide control over the planned safe zone in northern Syria.

He said that the safe zone should be created under the criteria that include retrieval of all weapons from the PKK/YPG situated in the safe zone, wiping off the terrorist organization from the safe zone which should be 30 to 40 kilometers in width, destruction of PKK/YPG’s all tunnels, shelters, equipment and ammunition in the area which will be controlled by Turkey and the U.S. in coordination.

Regarding the F-35 fighter jet program, Akar noted that Turkey was not just the customer of the project but also the investor and production partner, and that the program should continue as planned.

Since 2016, Turkey has conducted two major military operations in northwestern Syria — Operations Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch — to purge the region of terrorist groups, most notably the PKK/YPG, the Syrian branch of the terrorist PKK.

Turkey had long signaled a possible offensive in areas held by the YPG east of the Euphrates. However, last December the government decided to postpone the operation for a while after U.S. President Donald Trump decided that Washington, the main backer of the terrorist group, would withdraw its troops from Syria.

The withdrawal decision was quickly interpreted as an intention to halt U.S. support for the YPG, which Turkey sees as a terrorist organization. Yet, in the face of mounting hints that the country will maintain its support to the terrorist organization and contradictory statements from officials on the pullout process, officials from Ankara and Washington have been discussing setting up a 32-km deep safe zone to ease Turkey’s security concerns. However, no actions were taken also on this issue.