ANKARA,— A US-Turkey operations center aimed at creating a safe zone in Syrian Kurdistan (Kurdish northern Syria) is operating at “full capacity”, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Saturday.
Under an agreement reached between Ankara and Washington earlier this month after difficult negotiations, the joint operations center will help coordinate the establishment of a buffer between the Turkish border and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units YPG of Syrian Kurdistan — which is supported by the US.
“The center of joint operations has begun to operate at full capacity,” Akar told state news agency Anadolu.
He said the first joint helicopter flight took place on Saturday afternoon.
Akar’s statement comes shortly after the YPG military group — which has been a key US ally in Syria but is deemed by Turkey to have terrorist links — said they would help implement the buffer zone in their Kurdish areas along the Turkish border.
Ankara considers the YPG to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkey has repeatedly threatened to launch a new military offensive against YPG forces in Syrian Kurdistan, where the Kurdish group controls a large swathe of land.
The operations center was initially suggested by Washington to dissuade Ankara from carrying out another cross-border attack, after previous offensives in 2016 and 2018.
The YPG has been a key partner to Washington in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. The Kurdish YPG forces expelled the Islamic State from its last patch of territory in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz in March 2019.
But as the fight against IS winds down in the region, the prospect of a US military withdrawal stoked Kurdish fears of a long-threatened Turkish attack.
Details of the safe zone are currently hazy, and no date has been set for its implementation.
Washington has for years supported the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria, as part of an international anti-jihadist coalition dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
President Donald Trump abruptly announced the pullout from Syria.
The Kurdish PYD and its powerful military wing YPG/YPJ, considered the most effective fighting force against IS in Syria and U.S.
has provided them with arms. The YPG, which is the backbone of the SDF forces, has seized swathes of Syria from Islamic State.
Syrian Kurds have established an autonomous region in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) amid the country’s eight-year war.
In 2013, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party PYD — the political branch of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — has established three autonomous Cantons of Jazeera, Kobani and Afrin and a Kurdish government across Syrian Kurdistan in 2013. On March 17, 2016, Kurdish and Arab authorities announced the creation of a “federal region” made up of those semi-autonomous regions in Syrian Kurdistan.
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