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Turkey: US delays mean we need to setup Syria safe zone alone

A photo taken from Turkey's Sanliurfa province shows the armoured vehicles as Turkey, US start first joint ground patrols as part of efforts to establish safe zone east of Euphrates in Syria on September 08, 2019 [Emin Sansar / Anadolu Agency]
Armoured vehicles are seen as Turkey and the US start a joint ground patrols as part of efforts to establish safe zone east of Euphrates in Syria on 8 September 2019 [Emin Sansar/Anadolu Agency]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared that Turkey has no choice but to act alone to form the new safe zone in north-eastern Syria due to delays caused by the United States (US) during their cooperation on the project, reigniting fears of a Turkish military incursion into the area east of the Euphrates river.

After a speech to parliament yesterday, Erdogan told reporters, “We may suddenly arrive one night,” referencing a possible military operation into northern Syria to clear the Turkish-Syrian border of the US-backed Kurdish militias. “We have tried every means, with great patience, to solve this problem together with our allies.”

Prior to that statement, Erdogan announced at the parliament’s opening ceremony that “We have not achieved any of the results we desired in the east of the Euphrates. Turkey cannot lose even a single day on this issue. There is no other choice but to act on our own.”

READ: What’s next for Syria?

Erdogan’s statement comes almost two months after Turkey and the US agreed to cooperate and set up a joint operations centre to begin building the safe zone, following months of negotiations in which Turkey repeatedly warned that it would conduct the military operation in Syria if there was no agreement.

Since the start of the two country’s cooperation, however, the US has reportedly been delaying the process and obstructing many of Turkey’s demands such as the length and depth of the safe zone and its desire to govern the zone itself. This has confirmed previously-made predictions by many in Turkey that the safe zone project – in which Erdogan intends to house around two million Syrian refugees – will be undermined by the US just as similar cooperation in the town of Manbij in 2017 resulted in the role of the Turkish forces being side-lined.

If Turkey were to conduct a military intervention into northern Syria, it would be its third operation following two previous ones throughout the Syrian conflict: the Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016 and Operation Olive Branch in 2018. Both operations were conducted with the aim of pushing the Kurdish militias in Syria, such as the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – which Turkey perceives as a national security threat – further away from its border with Syria.

READ: Is a new constitution a priority while barrel bombs are still dropped on Syria?

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