Turkey says can form ‘security zone’ in Syria alone

Istanbul: Turkey could establish a “security zone” in neighbouring Syria on its own, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday, as the United States plans to withdraw troops from the war-torn country.

“We can establish this security zone on our own and take the necessary measures,” Cavusoglu told A-Haber television.

Turkey intends to set up a 20-mile (32 kilometres) zone that will keep the militia of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia away from its border.

The YPG is seen as an effective ground force by the US in the fight against the Islamic State group but Turkey says it is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Ankara and Washington list as a terror group.

Turkey has been threatening for months to launch an offensive in northern Syria to drive out US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters.

However Ankara has put its plans on hold after US President Donald Trump made a surprise announcement in December to pull out its some 2,000 troops — which was welcomed by the Turkish government.

Washington’s request for guarantees for the safety of the YPG militia during the withdrawal remains an issue with Ankara fiercely rejecting any conditions.

James Jeffrey, America’s Syria pointman, was to hold talks in Ankara on Thursday with Turkish officials, Cavusoglu said.

During their telephone call on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Trump agreed to speed up the discussions under way between generals of both countries to establish the “security zone”.