News Analysis: U.S. recognizes Turkish interests in NE Syria as White House "steps aside" in Syria: experts

Source: Xinhua| 2019-10-07 21:39:08|Editor: xuxin
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by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- The United States has prioritized Turkish interests in northeastern Syria as the White House decided to step aside to allow Turkish forces to launch an incursion to create a long-awaited safe zone that would ease Ankara's security concerns, experts said.

"We believe that our serious considerations and arguments have been understood by our American ally. We repeatedly said that we are determined to clear our borders from terrorist elements and we deployed efforts in this regard," a Turkish official told Xinhua.

The source, who requested to remain anonymous, was referring to the Syrian Kurdish fighters of the People's Protection Units (YPG), a main ally of the United States in fighting the Islamic State (IS) but are considered "terrorists" by the Turkish government.

"Our only concern is ... also to create a zone that would resettle the Syrians who had to leave their country" because of the civil war, the source pointed out.

Following a telephone conversation Sunday evening between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump, the White House said that U.S. forces "will not support or be involved in the (Turkish) operation" and "will not be in the immediate area."

The U.S. statement acknowledging a Turkish offensive in east of the Euphrates river was interpreted by the Turkish press as a "green light" from the United States to the Turkish operation.

The anticipated operation follows previous incursions codenamed as "Olive Branch" and "Euphrates Shield."

"Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation in northern Syria," the statement said amid Turkish frustration that a deal brokered in early August between the two NATO allies did not yield significant results.

Erdogan has portrayed a Turkish incursion as necessary to protect his country's 900-km borders with Syria, and also said in recent weeks that he plans to resettle "up to two million" Syrian refugees in Turkey in a safe zone in northern Syria, a project that has received mixed reactions.

The Turkish leader's efforts to repatriate at least some of the 3.6 million refugees that Turkey hosts come at a time when anti-Syrian sentiment is eroding public support for his government.

According to reports, the United States has no more than 1,000 troops in northern Syria and those who are in the area of the anticipated operations have begun withdrawing early Monday.

The withdrawal is crucial because a possible armed confrontation between Turkish and U.S. troops would have had catastrophic consequences on the already difficult bilateral ties and may also create rift in NATO.

"Turkey was growing painfully frustrated over U.S. foot-dragging, now we understand that Ankara's determination and diplomatic efforts have paid off since the U.S. troops will not act as a buffer between Turkish forces and YPG fighters," Oytun Orhan, coordinator at the Ankara-based think tank Center for Middle Eastern Studies (ORSAM), told Xinhua.

The expert, however, noted that arms and equipment supplied by the United States to the YPG over the years should be a concern to the Turkish offensive but would not stop the Turkish operation.

Orhan also underlined other uncertainties such as the scope of the Turkish operation and its depth into the Syrian territory, expressing concerns over the fate of the captured IS fighters, an issue that could prove very challenging for Ankara.

"The YPG could decide to release or even arm these fighters in order to use them against Turkish soldiers," he cautioned.

The White House statement indicated that Turkey will bear the responsibility of reportedly around 10,000 captured IS fighters in the area.

Overall, local experts have largely hailed the U.S.-Turkish "compromise" over northern Syria after two years of bitter bickering.

"There seems to be a consensus between Ankara and Washington on a tacit U.S. approval to Ankara's plans in northern Syria," commented political analyst Serkan Demirtas.

The expert argued that this new situation "might be a win-win situation for both countries as Trump will wash his hands from Syria and thousands of IS fighters ahead of a possible messy re-election campaign, while Turkey will clear its borders of YPG fighters".

Erdogan will meet Trump next month in Washington upon the latter's invitation and this would allow a "detente" in bilateral relations strained over differences on Syria and the safe zone issue, remarked Demirtas.

"There was a lot of stress, this new compromise and meeting could make things smoother for the future," he said.