Thursday, July 2, 2015

Turkey may create buffer zone on its border with Syria

Turkish president Recep Erdogan, in an anti-Kurdish speech, said that he would not allow the formation of a separate Kurdish state in Syria. There are reports he is ordering the military to carve out a buffer zone to prevent IS and Kurdish advances.
In his speech Erdogan said: “I am saying this to the whole world: We will never allow the establishment of a state on our southern border in the north of Syria. We will continue our fight in that respect whatever the cost may be.”He also accused the Kurds of ethnic cleansing in the areas they control. If Turkey attacks the Kurds to create a buffer zone, this will cause tension with the U.S. that has backed the Kurds in their fight against the Islamic State and enabled them to regain territory such as the border town of Kobane. The move might also be seen by the US as bolstering the Islamic State. The priority of Turkey is the fight against Assad rather than defeating the Islamic State whereas the U.S. priority appears to be to defeat IS.
Haaretz reports that the Turkish military has been instructed to prepare itself to create a 110-km-long, 33-km-deep buffer zone along its border with Syria to counter IS and Kurdish advances. The report was in the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper. The decision perhaps has yet to be made — there are reports that the military is opposed to any such move. Erdogan is chairing a National Security Council meeting today (June 29) where he will be pushing his decision to create the zone. Turkey has long tried to persuade the U.S. to create a no-fly zone safe area in Syria.
Most in the west have cheered the Kurds on as they have gained ground from the Islamic State. They recently drove IS from Kobane once again with huge civilian losses after the group had infiltrated the town. Locals say up to 300 civilians were slaughtered before IS fighters were driven out. The Kurds have not fought against Assad most of the time and have been concerned with consolidating their control over areas they occupy and seizing more territory from the Islamic State when they are able. Turkey wants to defeat Assad and also is worried that having an autonomous or separate Kurdish state on its border would increase demands from its own Kurdish minority. In recent Turkish elections Turkey's 14 million Kurds made considerable gains.
Some analysts doubt that political circumstances are favourable for Erdogan's plan, as he still has not found a partner to form a coalition government after his recent setback in elections. General Ozel, the Turkish military chief of staff has actually delayed earlier directives asking him to intervene in Syria. He maintains that any such move might violate international law. The Telegraph reports that Erdogan has authorised a change in the rules of engagement previously agreed by the Turkish parliament to allow the army to strike at Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as well as the Assad regime. He changed them so as to create the buffer zone which he says is mainly intended to prevent the emergence of a Kurdish state in the north. The move would also help to alleviate the continual flood of refugees across the border into Turkey. Refugees numbers are approaching two million making Turkey host to the largest number of refugees in the world.