Turkey will have to carry out its own plan if the U.S. starts delaying the safe zone agreement related to northern Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday, as he noted that Ankara's plans are all ready.
Speaking at the 948th-anniversary ceremony of Battle of Malazgirt (Manzikert) in the eastern province of Muş, Erdoğan expressed Turkey's determination regarding Syria.
"We are slowly covering ground regarding the efforts for the establishment of a safe zone," the president said, adding that Turkey prioritizes dialogue and cooperation to resolve problems regarding northern Syria.
"If we are forced into an undesired plan or delay, we have all preparations ready and will proceed with them," he added.
The president said they expect Turkish troops to enter the region soon.
"I hope nobody tests our patience regarding our determination to clear terrorists from our border with Syria," Erdoğan said.
On Aug. 7, Turkish and U.S. military officials agreed to set up a safe zone and develop a peace corridor running from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border to facilitate the return of displaced Syrians currently living in Turkey to their home country and provide security for Turkish border settlements and military outposts. They also agreed to establish a joint operations center. The agreement envisages the setting up of measures necessary to address Turkey's security concerns.
Although the first phase of establishing a safe zone in northern Syria has been launched together with the U.S. after a long period of discussions, Turkey is still approaching the issue cautiously due to its previous failed negotiations with the NATO ally.
The U.S., which has designated the PKK a terrorist organization, still allies itself with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria, which mainly consist of PKK offshoot People's Protection Forces (YPG) militants. Turkey wants YPG commanders removed from the SDF's top ranks and Sunni Arabs, together with non-YPG Kurds, included in the lower ranks.
Turkish drones carried out surveillance work in the safe zone area last week in preparation for the helicopter flight.
The U.S. has primarily partnered with the YPG in northeastern Syria in the anti-Daesh fight. Turkey strongly opposes the YPG's presence in northern Syria, which has been a major sticking point in strained Turkey-U.S. relations, due to the latter's support for the YPG under the pretext of fighting Daesh. The U.S. has provided military training and given truckloads of military support to the YPG, despite its NATO ally's security concerns.
To reduce tensions, Turkey and the U.S. agreed on a road map in June 2018 foreseeing the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij and installing joint Turkish-American patrols, which began last November. However, the process has been sluggish as the terrorist group was still present in the city despite the three-month timetable set for implementing the deal.
Turkey expects the creation of a 32-kilometer safe zone in northern Syria, which must be cleared of YPG terrorists. Ankara has warned that if the establishment of such a zone is delayed, it will take cross-border military action to remove the terrorist threat on its southern border.
Turkey previously conducted two offensives into Syria, against Daesh and the YPG, in 2016 and 2018. Operations Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch liberated the region from YPG, PKK and Daesh terrorists, allowing hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians to return to their homes. The YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror group, which has been responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people in Turkey, including many children, women and infants, for more than 30 years.
Efforts ongoing for Turkey-US patrols in Syria safe zone
Efforts are underway to initiate joint patrols with U.S. military personnel "soon" for the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria, Turkey's National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Monday.
"Our works are ongoing to initiate joint patrols with the American military elements soon," Akar said during inspections of troops in the eastern Erzincan province, along with the chiefs of general staff, land, air and naval forces.
Akar said the first joint reconnaissance flight was carried out with a U.S. helicopter on Saturday.
"Efforts are ongoing to carry out a similar flight with a Turkish helicopter in the coming days," he said, adding that joint patrols would start in the aftermath.
Akar also stated that Turkey does not have tolerance for delays here.
"The topics that we have planned and agreed on should be maintained and realized in a certain pace," he added.
In a phone call Wednesday, Akar and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper agreed to launch the first phase of the Syria safe zone plan as of Aug. 21.
Akar said a safe zone east of the Euphrates River in Syria should be established within the framework of the principles set out without delay, according to the Turkish Defense Ministry.