Earlier this week, Turkey and the United States met to discuss the creation of a “safe zone” along the border of Turkey and Syria, which would help stop the flow of foreign fighters into Syria, and would provide a safe haven for refugees caught between Islamic State terrorism and the Assad regime’s pipe bombings. The fight against the self-declared Islamic State has been going on for nearly a year, but the possibility of a “safe zone” has only just started to be discussed.
What is a “Safe Zone”?
To be clear, currently, there is no “safe zone.” Islamic State terrorists control most of the border from Aleppo in northeastern Syria to Kobani in central Syria (see map below). This means that militants, money and munitions can travel from Turkey into Syria with ease.
The “safe zone” proposed by Turkey and the United States would stretch 68 miles along the Turkish-Syrian border. This safe zone could prevent the flow of foreign fighters across the border, and could allow a safe haven for Syrian refugees.
However, according to the Washington Post, a senior Obama administration official has made clear that a “safe zone” is not the same as a “no-fly zone.” And the UN has raised concerns that an improperly protected, and hastily created “safe zone” could put the lives of refugees seeking safe haven at risk.
Why is Turkey Suddenly Fighting ISIS?
Along with its proposed plan for a “safe zone” along the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey has begun to fly airstrikes into Syria and Iraq. The Turkish airstrikes have targeted both Islamic State terrorists in Syria, as well as Kurdish militants in Iraq.
Furthermore, an agreement between the United States and Turkey has allowed American warplanes to fly out of the Incirlik Air Base, only 250 miles from the border. So why has Turkey, who has remained silent over the past year, decided to step into the battlefield now?
Turkey’s escalations are due, in part, to a recent bombing that occurred in the Turkish city of Suruç, near the Syrian border, less than one hundred miles from Kobani. The Islamic State is believed to be responsible for detonating the bomb, which killed over 30 Kurds. After this attack, Kurdish militants from the PKK, or Kurdistan Worker’s Party, attacked two Turkish police officers, claiming that the Turkish authorities didn’t do enough to sufficiently protect the Kurdish victims of the bombing.
In retaliation, Turkey has set in motion plans to strike the Islamic State in Syria, and PKK strongholds in the mountains of Iraq. Similar to the United States’ strategy, Turkey’s plans do not involve putting boots on the ground, but may include the use of long-range artillery to hit targets across the border in Syria.
Who Would Control the Safe Zone?
With Bashar al-Assad (the President of Syria) backpedaling from repeated losses to Syrian rebels in the north, American and Turkish planes are free to fly through the skies of northern Syria, without the threat of conflict with Syrian warplanes.
Details are unclear, but without any American boots on the ground, Americans will definitely not control the zone. Furthermore, White House officials have made it clear that its only goals are clearing Islamic State terrorists from the border, not to create a any official “safe zone.”
Experts theorize that moderate Syrian rebels could seize control of the border territory with the help of American-led air support, but it is unlikely that the Turkish government will let the Syrian Kurds take the land, despite proof that the Kurdish YPG is one of the most effective partners in the fight against the Islamic State.[To Read More Visit the Washington Post]