National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced Saturday that the Turkey-U.S. Joint Operations Center to establish and manage a safe zone in northeast Syria had officially commenced operations at full capacity.
Although neither side has revealed details about the center, such as the size of the zone or the command structure of the forces operating there, but Akar said: "The command of center is by one U.S. general and one Turkish general."
The minister said the first joint helicopter flight would be conducted later in the day and that implementations on field as part of the first phase of the safe zone plan had already started. Turkish drones carried out surveillance work in the safe zone area last week as preparation for the helicopter flight.
"We have started destroying terrorist positions and targets," Akar added. He also reiterated that Turkey would use its right of self defense to the full extent in case of an attack on Turkish observatory posts or its presence in Idlib.
American and Turkish commanders conducted the first U.S.-Turkey reconnaissance flight, the Pentagon later said Saturday. Spokesman Sean Robertson told Anadolu Agency that two generals, one from each country, flew on the same helicopter on Saturday.
This "milestone" followed establishment of the joint coordination center earlier this week, Robertson said in an emailed statement.
This flight demonstrates U.S.'s commitment to address "Turkey's legitimate security concerns on their southern border", the statement underlined.
The statement also reiterated U.S.'s determination to "maintain security in northeast Syria so ISIS cannot reemerge," using an alternate name for the Daesh terrorist group.
The first joint helicopter flight between the two NATO allies allows the coalition and U.S.'s partners to "remain focused on achieving the enduring defeat of ISIS," the statement added.
Following long-running discussions, Turkey and the U.S. agreed Thursday on starting the first phase of the safe zone plan in northern Syria.
Akar and his U.S. counterpart Mark Esper discussed the issue in a phone call. According to a statement by the National Defense Ministry, the defense chiefs also agreed on holding a meeting in Ankara as soon as possible between Turkish and U.S. military delegations to further coordinate the process.
With the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria, Turkey hopes to resettle a portion of displaced Syrians currently living in the country and get rid of the PKK and its Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG) terrorists, in the region.
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.