Even though Ankara has clearly stressed that the planned safe zone to be established along its Syrian borders should be under Turkey's control, U.S. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has said that the U.S. aims to attract more Europeans to the region to be part of a stabilizing force. Speaking to Fox News on Feb. 24, Graham said an 80 percent American and 20 percent European presence in Syria would be flipped following the withdrawal of the U.S."This is Trump's doctrine; 200 American forces will attract 1,000 Europeans. It is time for Europe to step up. Europe is hit harder from the caliphate than even the U.S.," Graham said, claiming that the small number of American troops on the ground will prompt Europeans to increase their presence in the region.
When President Donald Trump announced in December that the U.S. will withdraw its 2,000 troops from Syria, Turkey welcomed the decision as it had long been concerned about the presence of the PKK-linked People's Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria and their ongoing partnership with the U.S.
"If a safe zone is to be established along Turkey's border, that area needs to be under our control. We cannot take precautions after rockets hit our land and need to take precautions beforehand," President Erdoğan said in a televised interview on Feb. 23, clearly indicating that Ankara will not allow that area to become a safe zone for terrorist organizations after the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria. Erdoğan's comments came after a senior U.S. official said the country would leave about 400 U.S. troops in Syria, a reversal by Trump.
Contrary to Turkey's perspective and expectations, Graham highlighted that: "I predict that 80 percent of this force in northeast Syria will be European not Americans; that is the way it should be."
In relation to Trump's withdrawal plan, Graham stated that the U.S. will have small forces on the ground and will provide air cover, while expecting the Europeans to set up most of the stabilizing force. "This is a really smart adjustment, it will make sure that ISIS [Daesh] will not come back and Turkey and the Kurds will not go to war; Iran is the biggest loser of this," he added.
In mid-December, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw its troops from Syria, saying that the only reason U.S. troops were in Syria was to defeat Daesh, which he said was accomplished.
According to the Pentagon, the remaining American forces will be part of the stabilizing force in northern Syria.
Turkey has continued intense diplomatic traffic with its NATO ally to solve the problem regarding the YPG. As part of these efforts, Erdoğan and Trump discussed the troop withdrawal in a phone call late Thursday. During the call, the presidents discussed the latest developments in Syria, reiterating a joint commitment to fighting terror and agreeing to support a political resolution to the conflict.
Turkey has been stressing that the planned safe zone should not be established for protecting the YPG. Prior to the U.S. withdrawal announcement, Turkey was close to launching an operation in northern Syria with the aim of eradicating YPG terrorists. As the presence of the YPG continues to pose grave security threats to the country's national security, Ankara has said that the borders of the country need to be cleared from the terrorists and the proposed safe zone should be under the control of Turkey and can help build security in the region.
In relation to the issue, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Sunday that Turkey's armed forces are ready for an operation to be carried out in areas controlled by terrorist organizations in northern Syria.
"Our preparations for Manbij and the east of the Euphrates are complete. We will take the necessary steps when the time comes upon the orders of our president," Akar said during a rally in Turkey's southern Hatay province.
Highlighting that Turkey has no desire to threaten another country's territorial integrity, Akar noted that the developments in the war-torn country are a subject of "survival" for Turkey.
"Let me be very clear that the Kurds are our brothers [and sisters]. We are one, and we can never be separated," he noted.
Akar underscored that Turkey would uphold its advocacy for a safe zone to be established in northern Syria in order to prevent any more suffering east of the Euphrates, adding Ankara's fight is with terrorism not with the region's Kurdish community.
Turkey's legitimate concerns about the instability in the neighboring country have been stoked more with the missteps of the U.S., such as providing heavy arms to a terrorist group in the name of fighting another one. Ankara has repeatedly called on the U.S. to end the partnership with the YPG and take Ankara's concerns into consideration.
Meanwhile, Iraq's military said in a statement on Sunday that the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the YPG, handed over 280 Iraqi and foreign detainees in recent days to Iraq. Speaking to Reuters, an Iraqi military colonel confirmed that 130 people were transferred on Sunday, adding to the 150 transferred on Thursday. It was also reported that there might be more such handovers under an agreement to transfer a group of some 500 detainees held by the SDF in Syria, Iraqi military sources said.