On Saturday, the expected happened; Turkish and U.S. officials started reconnaissance flights as part of the first phase of the safe zone plan in Syria. The announcement was made by the Pentagon spokesman Sean Robertson, who made a statement that one Turkish and one American general flew in the same helicopter.
It should be noted that the joint flight started a couple days before President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was to make a surprise visit to Moscow to discuss the Idlib issue with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. It is an important start. Last week, a joint coordination center was established and now the two countries show that they respect one another's concerns. The U.S. is making it clear that Ankara's security concerns on the southern border are being noticed and accepted.
Robertson's statement also makes the U.S.' determination clear that it wants to maintain security in northeastern Syria so that Daesh can't rise up again.
I think the joint flight is a strong signal to underline the partnership between Ankara and Washington. Now a joint operation center is active and creating a safe zone is the first goal. Last week, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and his American counterpart Mark Esper agreed to launch the first phase of the Syria safe zone plan.
The first joint flight is part of this. Akar said that the first phases of the field applications have started and in addition to this the destruction of terrorist emplacements and fortifications are underway.
It should be noted that Turkey is following its multipolar diplomacy approach. It has agreements and strong relations with both the U.S. and Russia. However, Idlib seems to be a place of deep concern.
Although Turkey and Russia agreed last September to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone and prohibit all hostile activities, the Bashar Assad regime and its allies keep breaking the terms of the cease-fire.
President Erdoğan is traveling to Moscow to discuss a joint plan concerning the Idlib issue with Russian President Putin. Idlib is the last territory the regime is trying to conquer; there are over 400,000 civilians in Idlib.
It might become the site of horrific massacres since the regime does not differentiate between terrorists and innocent people. So Turkey is trying to prevent the appalling consequences of these mass attacks. But there is the risk of a great wave of migration from the city, which is a new challenge that the world, and especially Turkey, will face.
Ankara is prepared but President Erdoğan's Moscow visit is vital to halt a disaster since Bashar Assad is mainly backed by Putin. President Erdoğan already said in a phone call to Putin last week that attacks and cease-fire violations in Idlib have resulted in a major humanitarian crisis and have become a serious threat to Turkish national security. Moscow is said to have agreed to initiate mutual efforts and the details are to be discussed in Moscow between the two leaders.