Creating a humanitarian safe zone in Syria would entail a "major combat mission" requiring U.S. troops to fight militants and the Damascus regime, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told lawmakers on Wednesday. Turkey has long called for a safe area to be set up along the Syrian-Turkish border to protect civilians but President Barack Obama's administration has yet to endorse the idea. Carter emphasized the challenges involved in establishing a buffer zone, and warned that other regional governments might not be ready to contribute to the effort. "We would need to fight to create such a space and then fight to keep such a space and that's why it's a difficult thing to contemplate," Carter told members of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee. Carter was asked about the option by Senator Dick Durbin, one of four senators to send a recent letter to Obama calling for setting up a safe area in Syria. "Though this may not be a genocide by classic legal definition, it is the humanitarian crisis of our time ... with no end in sight," Durbin said. Carter said such a safe zone would be "contested" by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and other extremists on the one hand and the Syrian regime's forces on the other. The "practicalities" would be "significant," he said.
The U.S. military's top-ranking officer, General Martin Dempsey, said American commanders have drawn up contingency plans for a safe zone in consultation with their Turkish counterparts. "We've been planning for such a contingency for some time," Dempsey told the same hearing. He said American forces were capable of carving out a buffer zone in Syria but it was a major political decision and would mean troops stationed elsewhere would not be available for other missions. "It's practical militarily but it would be a significant policy decision to do so," Dempsey said. He also said that for "this to be practical and effective, it would have to involve regional partners."
Turkey has been demanding the establishment of safe zone in order to protect civilians coming from Syria through establishing new refugee camps in Syria as the country is home to more than two millions of refugees. In March of 2011, Syrians were emboldened enough to raise their voices against the dictatorship. However, the regime's response was not as peaceful as the protests. And the country was subsequently dragged into a deadly civil war after opposition groups took up arms against the government. The Syrian civil war has now entered its fifth year and has caused the death of more than 200,000 people and at least 60,000 are missing. The war also displaced nearly 10 million people. While the international and regional powers continue endless discussions, the regime does not just use conventional weapons but also chemical weapons. About 13.6 million people, equivalent to the population of London, have been displaced by conflicts in Syria and Iraq, many without food or shelter as winter starts, the U.N. refugee agency revealed. The 13.6 million include 7.2 million displaced within Syria – an increase from a long-held U.N. estimate of 6.5 million, as well as 3.3 million Syrian refugees abroad, 1.9 million displaced in Iraq and 190,000 who have left to seek safety. The vast majority of Syrian refugees have gone to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. Western countries have been frequently criticized by aid agencies and the U.N. for not opening their borders to the Syrian refugees as the most developed countries have received the least number of refugees.
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