Plans for a possible military operation targeting the area east of the Euphrates River and the establishment of a safe zone are expected to be discussed in today's National Security Council (MGK) meeting chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In addition, the delivery of S-400 defense systems, the F-35 program, and drilling operations in the East Mediterranean are other main issues that are expected to be discussed in the council meeting of Turkey's top security advisory body.
The possible military operation east of the Euphrates River is expected to be given top priority. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar will make a presentation about the ongoing preparations about the cross-border operation.
Manbij and surrounding areas have been under the control of U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the People's Protection Units (YPG), since August 2016 after it ousted Daesh, who had captured the town from moderate oppositions in January 2014.
Turkey, however, strongly opposes the YPG's presence in Manbij. It has been a major sticking point in the strained relations between Turkey and the U.S., due to the latter's support for the YPG under the pretext of fighting Daesh.
The YPG has organic organizational and operational links with the PKK, a group considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the EU and Turkey. The U.S. has provided military training and given truckloads of military support to the YPG, despite its NATO ally's security concerns.
Regarding the issue of a safe zone, the council is expected to evaluate last week's meetings with U.S. Special Envoy to Syria James Jeffrey. Also, activities of the study group formed by Turkish and U.S. delegates are expected to be discussed.
Last Tuesday, Defense Minister Akar and Jeffrey met in the capital Ankara and exchanged views on the issue.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said before their meeting Tuesday, "If the planned safe zone is not established and threats to Turkey continue, an operation will be launched east of the Euphrates River to oust the YPG from the region."
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 in 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 has repeatedly indicated its readiness to launch an operation east of the Euphrates to eliminate the YPG. However, following the U.S.' decision to withdraw from Syria in December, Ankara decided to put the operation on hold for some time.
While establishing a safe zone would eliminate some of Turkey's concerns, the presence of the YPG in Syria and its plan to form a quasi-state will continue to present a threat to the country. Until now, Turkey and the U.S. have not discussed in detail where the safe zone would be and what would happen to YPG militants. Turkish officials had been waiting for Washington to clarify what they meant by a 20-mile-deep safe zone.
As Ankara was waiting for Washington to take more concrete steps, Turkey carried out two cross-border operations west of the Euphrates River – Operation Euphrates Shield launched in August 2016 and Operation Olive Branch in January 2018 – to drive terrorist groups, including the YPG and Daesh, from its borders.