US-Turkey Syria operations centre at full capacity: minister

ANKARA: A US-Turkey operations centre aimed at creating a safe zone in northern Syria is operating at “full capacity”, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Saturday.

Under an agreement reached between Ankara and Washington earlier this month after difficult negotiations, the joint operations centre will help coordinate the establishment of a buffer between the Turkish border and Syrian areas controlled by the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

“The centre of joint operations has begun to operate at full capacity,” Akar told state news agency Anadolu. 

He said the first joint helicopter flight took place on Saturday afternoon.

Akar’s statement comes shortly after the YPG military group — which has been a key US ally in Syria but is deemed by Turkey to have terrorist links — said they would help implement the buffer zone in their areas along the Turkish border.

Ankara considers the YPG to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has fought a bloody insurgency inside Turkey for 35 years and is classified as a “terrorist” organisation by Turkey, the US and EU. 

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to launch a new military offensive against YPG forces in northern Syria, where the Kurdish group controls a large swathe of land.

The operations centre was initially suggested by Washington to dissuade Ankara from carrying out another cross-border attack, after previous offensives in 2016 and 2018.

The YPG has been a key partner to Washington in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.

But as the fight against IS winds down in the region, the prospect of a US military withdrawal stoked Kurdish fears of a long-threatened Turkish attack. 

Details of the safe zone are currently hazy, and no date has been set for its implementation.