The deal between Turkey and the United States (US) to form a narrow safety zone in northern Syria was merely a first step for purging the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters from a much larger section of the border region, two Turkish officials have revealed in a report by Bloomberg reported on Sunday.
The two countries have agreed on a deal to jointly patrol between the Syrian towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, an area stretching 125 kilometers (78 miles) and up to 15 kilometers deep, according to the unnamed Turkish officials who have first-hand knowledge of the negotiations.
Early this month, the two countries announced that they had reached an agreement on forming a joint operations center in Turkey to coordinate and manage the planned safe zone in northern Syria.
That decision came after months of talks between the two NATO allies, however, with no agreement on two main topics of how far the zone should extend into Syria, and who would lead in patrolling the area.
Ankara is demanding that the size of the zone extend more than twice as far into Syrian territory as Washington has proposed. Until the two officials’ remarks, there has been no declaration on who would be in charge of patrolling the zone.
The officials said joint military patrols are expected to start within a month, with four bases to be set up ahead of a local security force creation.
The US administration has reportedly agreed only to the employment of two Turkish soldiers for every American soldier, while the Turkish side is demanding to deploy as many troops as it considers necessary.
According to the officials, the US officials also agreed on surveillance flights of Turkish armed drones over the zone, but not yet on overflights by Turkish warplanes.
The US authorities are also against the Turkish proposal to deploy the Free Syrian Army, an Ankara-backed rebel group, in the area.
The US, however, is open to the return of refugees living in Turkey to the region, the two officers said. 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.
Ankara wants to set up the zone with full control over it in order to clear the area east of the Euphrates River of the YPG and its political wing, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) both of which are deemed by Turkey as terrorist organizations over their alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK has waged a decades-long war against the Turkish state for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey.
The YPG is known for fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria alongside the US-led international coalition.
The Turkish sources vowed that they could launch a unilateral attack on the YPG unless the zone is later not deepened and extended by as much as several hundred kilometers.
Just before the negotiations began in early August, Turkey had intensified military deployment on its southern border for a potential incursion into northern Syria.
However later, the talks have appeared to reduce the prospects of a Turkish military operation with which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his fellows repeatedly threatened.
Ten brigades had been deployed along Turkey’s frontier between the Euphrates River and the Iraqi border in a bid to confront the YPG militias estimated to be around 15,000, the Turkish officials added.
The joint operations center was reported to become “fully operational” on Saturday to oversee the buffer zone, state-run news agency Anadolu (AA) reported, citing Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.
Further, a first helicopter to fly over the zone was planned for Saturday, according to the same report.
There was no response from the Pentagon regarding the Turkish plans, Bloomberg said.