Turkey is seeking to establish a new safe zone in Syria east of the Euphrates River, which it insists must be free of the Kurdish groups such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Peoples' Protection Units (YPG), warning that it will resort to a military operation if this is not agreed upon.
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and United States (US) envoy to Syria James Jeffrey held talks in Turkey's capital Ankara yesterday to discuss the planning and implementation of the latest de-escalation zone, as part of a two-day official visit to discuss the broader settlement of the Syrian conflict.
During the meeting, Akar reportedly expressed his concerns to Jeffreys of the major meetings that have recently been taking place between the Kurdish groups and US officials and military personnel, one of which was simultaneously being held yesterday in Syria between SDF leader Mazlum Abdi and a US delegation headed by US Central Command chief General Kenneth McKenzie.
Following the meeting in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu added to the pressure by stating that "If the safe zone is not established as planned and threats against our country continue, we will launch the military operation in the east of the Euphrates."
Cavusoglu's statement was in reference to an operation that Turkey has been planning in the months, through which it aims to drive the Kurdish militias further east in order to clear the Syrian-Turkish border.
Such an operation, Turkey stressed, is necessary for its national security and is meant to counter the ever-present threat of the Kurdish groups – along with the Syrian conflict – spilling over into Turkey. To this end, Turkey has conducted two major military operations into Syria over the past few years: "Operation Euphrates Shield" in 2017 and "Operation Olive Branch" in 2018, in which it captured the strategic city of Afrin along with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) which it backs.
This push for a new safe zone and the proposed measures against the Kurdish militias comes amid a rocket attack by the YPG, fired from Syria, on the south-eastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa today, in which at least six civilians have been wounded so far.