Turkey says Syria safe zone centre fully operational
ANKARA - A joint Turkish-US operation centre to establish and manage a safe zone in northeast Syria is fully operational, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying on Saturday by the state-owned Anadolu news agency.
Turkey and the United States agreed to set up the joint operations centre for the proposed zone along Syria's northeastern border but gave few details, such as the size of the zone or the command structure of the forces that would operate there.
"The joint operation centre has started working at full capacity. The command of centre is by one US general and one Turkish general," Akar was quoted as saying.
Akar added that the first joint helicopter flight was due to take place on Saturday after Turkish drones carried out surveillance work in the safe zone area last week.
Washington and Ankara have been at odds over plans for northeastern Syria, where the Kurdish YPG militia formed the main part of a US-backed force fighting Islamic State. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group.
Syria's Kurds said on Saturday they would support the implementation of the US-Turkey deal to set up a buffer zone in their areas.
On Saturday, Mazloum Kobani, the head of the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said his alliance would back the deal.
"We will strive to ensure the success of (US) efforts towards implementing the understanding... with the Turkish state," he said.
"The SDF will be a positive party towards the success of this operation," he told journalists in the northeastern town of Hasakeh.
US Central Command said late Friday that the SDF - which expelled the Islamic State group from their last patch of territory in eastern Syria in March - had destroyed outposts in the border area.
"The SDF destroyed military fortifications" on Thursday, it said in a statement on Twitter.
"This demonstrates (the) SDF's commitment to support implementation of the security mechanism framework."
On Saturday, a representative of the US-led coalition fighting IS said the buffer area sought to "limit any uncoordinated military operations".
"We believe that this dialogue is the only way to secure the border area in a sustainable manner," Brigadier-General Nicholas Pond said.
Damascus has rejected the agreement as serving "Turkey's expansionist ambitions".
Syrian Kurds have established an autonomous region in northeast Syria amid the country's eight-year war.
But as the fight against IS winds down, the prospect of a US military withdrawal had stoked Kurdish fears of a long-threatened Turkish attack.
Turkey has already carried out two offensives into Syria in 2016 and 2018, the second of which saw it and allied Syrian rebels overrun the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in the northwest.