The first United States (US) team arrived in Turkey’s south-eastern border province of Sanliurfa to begin the establishment of a joint operations center in the country to coordinate and manage a planned safe zone in northern Syria, Turkey’s Defence Ministry announced on Monday.
“A six-person US delegation has arrived in Sanliurfa in the context of preliminary works to set up a joint operations center. The center is expected to become operational in the coming days,” reads the ministry statement.
The daily Cumhuriyet newspaper also reported that a 90-person US military team has also arrived in the province.
The decision to create the center came last week after months of talks between the two NATO allies.
Ankara wants to create the 30-kilometer deep safe zone with full control over it in order to clear the area east of the Euphrates river of the US-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
On the other end, Washington favors a 10-kilometer deep area with no Turkish troops permanently based in it.
Last week’s deal did not reveal any agreement on two main topics, namely the size of the zone and secondly who would be in charge of the patrolling the zone.
The formation of the center seems to reduce the prospects of a military operation in the region with which Turkish authorities repeatedly threatened during the past months if the US failed to agree on a solution that will safeguard Turkey’s border.
Turkey previously carried out military operations in the region in 2016 and 2018 — Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch — in a bid to dislodge Kurdish militia fighters from close to Turkey’s southern border.
Turkey regards the Kurdish YPG as a terrorist group due to its affiliation with the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a rebel group that has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.
The US sees the YPG as a key player in the international coalition in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS).