Turkish drones began operating in northern Syria as of Wednesday as part of a joint agreement between Washington and Ankara to form a joint operations center to create a safe zone , Turkey’s Defence Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
The ministry did not provide further detail on the drones’ activities, but announced that work was continuing to make the operations center in Turkey’s south-eastern border province of Sanliurfa operational “as soon as possible.”
A six-person United States (US) team arrived in Sanliurfa on Monday to begin the establishment of the operations center in the country to coordinate and manage the planned safe zone.
The decision to create the center came after months of talks between the two NATO allies, with the latter accusing the US of stalling the establishment of the zone.
Ankara wants to create the safe zone with full control over it in order to clear the area east of the Euphrates River of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
It is demanding that the size of the zone extend more than twice as far into Syrian territory as Washington has proposed. There has also been no agreement on who would be in charge of patrolling the zone.
The YPG is a key player on the ground for the US and international coalition in their fight against Islamic State (ISIS) while Turkey deems it a terrorist organization due to its affiliation with the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), an insurgent group that has waged a decades-long war against the Turkish state since the 1980s.
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.
The military operation against the YPG is still very much on the table in Ankara, according to Turkish pro-government media outlets.
“Turkey will not allow the US to stall the process for the operation east of the Euphrates like they did in Manbij,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters at the weekend, referring to a town in northeastern Syria where the two NATO allies established a joint patrol protocol after months of US stalling.
On Monday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar threatened the US with pursuing their own solutions in the region where up to 2000 US troops are deployed, if Washington hesitates to meet Ankara’s demands over the zone.
With the safe zone, Turkey plans to set up what it calls a peace corridor that would also allow Syrian refugees to return to their homelands in the country’s north.
As of June the number of Syrians who have sought protection in Turkey stood at 3,657 000, the biggest refugee community in a single country around the world, according to an official figure revealed by the Immigration and Integration Sub-committee of Human Rights Commission in the Turkish Parliament.
Following an economic crisis last summer Turkish authorities recently increased raids as part of a new policy against refugees, mostly Syrians, in the country’s largest city and business center Istanbul in an attempt to deport undocumented refugees.
In June, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he believed the number of Syrians returning to their homeland would reach one million once the safe zone is established in northeast Syria along the shared border.