Turkey, U.S. reach agreement on creating buffer zone in Syria

By ONUR ANT | Bloomberg | Published: August 7, 2019

Turkey and the U.S. reached a long-sought agreement to distance American-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters from the Turkish border, softening a major point of contention between the NATO allies.

Turkish and American officials meeting in Ankara over the past three days agreed to set up a joint operations center to coordinate efforts to carve out a buffer zone in northern Syria, according to statements from both governments. The area would be off-limits to the Kurdish forces, which Turkey regards as threats to its territorial integrity.

The agreement has the potential to delay, if not avert, another crisis in U.S.-Turkish ties. Turkey has repeatedly vowed to launch an offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia in the absence of a deal to push it deeper into Syria. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar had said earlier Wednesday that preparations for an incursion were complete.

But the announcements left out some key details, including the question of who'd be in charge of the buffer zone, how deep into Syrian territory it would go and how it'd be implemented, according to Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

"Turkey is not interested in aligning with fundamental American policy goals in Syria," including the U.S. effort to minimize Iranian and Russian influence, Stein said. The agreement was made "to buy time because Ankara remains concerned about accidentally killing Americans."

The U.S. depended on the Kurdish YPG as a vital component of its campaign to defeat Islamic State. For Ankara, the group is a mortal enemy because of its links to another Kurdish separatist movement that Turkey has been fighting for over three decades. That group, the PKK, is also considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union.