Syrian buffer zone goes against US priorities, experts say

Priorities of the U.S. and those of Turkey are out of sync in establishing a buffer zone in Syria, experts says

Syrian buffer zone goes against US priorities, experts say

The priorities of the U.S. in it’s fight against ISIL supersedes any security challenges that establishing a proposed buffer zone in Syria may bring, experts told The Anadolu Agency (AA).

Turkey has been pushing for the establishment of a no-fly zone and a safe haven in Syria near the Turkish border for Syrian refugees as hundreds of thousands of civilians continue to flee into Turkey. However, U.S. officials have insisted that for the time being, the proposal is not on table.  

“It (executing a buffer zone) is more of a political challenge rather than a military challenge,” said Faisal Itani, an expert at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, referring to the differences between the priorities of the U.S. and Turkey.

In several platforms, Washington has proffered the U.S.-led coalition’s priorities as being counter to Turkey's proposal, in addition to underlining the challenges in executing a buffer zone in northern Syria. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a press conference told reporters that the priority of the operations in Syria is to target ISIL’s command and control centers, while Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said the focus of military campaigns in Syria is to put pressure on ISIL and deny the group sanctuary and safe haven. 

Kerry cited some of the security challenges of establishing a buffer zone, including that it would be threatened, particularly by the Bashar al-Assad regime. 

Buffer zone beginning of a broader intervention

Itani said that buffer zone can be executed militarily despite some of the challenges. However, the U.S. is quite aware that pursuing a buffer zone would put it in eventual conflict with the Syrian regime, he noted, and that would be the beginning of a broader intervention.

Turkey's main priority in Syria is the removal of the Assad regime, Itani said and the U.S. does not see the problem in the same way as Turkey is looking at it.

“The United States does not have any interest in such a show down with the regime. They don’t want to take the first step to that show down which is the creation of a buffer zone,” he said.

Meanwhile, defeating ISIL in Iraq is the priority of the U.S. but the terror group’s presence in Syria is a secondary problem to be dealt with, Itani noted. When it comes to the removal of the regime in Syria, however, it remains a more marginal task at this phase, he said.

Responding to a question of whether the pressure from other coalition members such as France and the U.K. would work to push the U.S. to accept the idea of a buffer zone, Itani said that the only thing that can change Washington's view is an agreement with Ankara.

Gen. John Allen, the U.S. special envoy for the anti-ISIL U.S.-led coalition, and his deputy, Ambassador Brett McGurk, are in Ankara to meet Turkish officials and the buffer zone issue is expected to be one of the main topics of discussion.

Itani also claimed that the U.S. does not have any intention to destroy ISIL in Syria, but merely wants is to disrupt it enough to cripple its capability in Iraq.

“If the objective is to destroy the organization in Syria then that would definitely require some sort of military effort on the ground, not just a few airstrikes,” he said.

"Buffer zone a defensive situation" 

Before a buffer zone can be set up, a few have to be considred. Jeffrey White a defense fellow at the Washington Institute, specializing in military and security affairs of the Levant and Iran, pointed to some of those challenges.

It is an “open ended commitment” and an “uncertain situation,” he said, adding that it would have to be defended against any possible threat by Assad’s forces and ISIL. 

“The buffer zone would be intended to cover everybody inside it against a variety of threats, including the regime and ISIL.” However, he added, “Establishing a buffer zone does not necessarily put you in a conflict with anyone else as it is a defensive situation.” 

Leila Hilal agreed. The international security expert at the New America Foundation, said establishing a buffer zone requires a capable military to protect it, whether those forces would be from the U.S. or other countries.

“The U.S. wants to minimize the military engagement to defeat ISIL.” Thus, as expanding the engagement within Syria is not a priority for the U.S., it would not be easy for Turkey to influence moves in this direction.  

China, Russia to oppose the idea

Another point that is less talked about but remains a disincentive to the buffer zone proposal is the opposition to the idea by Russia and China.

The U.S. is neither interested in a buffer zone to protect refugees nor does it want to bear any likely opposition by China and Russia, according to Prof. Ramazan Gozen, chairman of the International Relations and Strategic Research Institute at Yildirim Bayzid University in Ankara.

"Even today, if China and Russia oppose, the U.S. would not be able to conduct the operations against ISIL in Syria,” he told AA, noting that the Russians and Chinese would put more pressure on U.S. if a buffer zone was in Syria.

Prof. Birol Akgun, who chairs the Institute of Strategic Thinking in Ankara, also pointed to the same point, noting that China and Russia would use international law against the coalition's operation if a buffer zone was established.

 "When the buffer zone is implemented in Syria, Russia and China will use international law as a means of opposing all operations going on in Syria which might crackle the coalition led by the U.S.” he said.

“Declaring a no-fly zone or executing a buffer zone on the territory of another state has a specific place in international law and should be legal in this respect. Thereof, a U.N. Security Council resolution is needed but there we have the veto power of Russia and China.”

Akgun also noted that Kerry’s remarks that any area that would be a buffer should be protected against attacks by the Assad regime, does not give a realistic hope as the U.S. would never buy the idea of a buffer zone.

Because the U.S. or any of its coalition partners have not used ground troops in concert with airstrikes, Akgun believes the operation will have a limited effect. “As long as there is not a full scale ground operation, these are all just run around tactics. In this context I would never say that the U.S. would ever say 'yes' to a buffer zone.”

But U.S priorities, coupled with confusion about ISIL, are the main factors for its reluctance to support a buffer zone, says Prof. Muhittin Ataman, a Middle East expert at the Ankara-based SETA Foundation.

“The U.S. on one hand wants to punish ISIL, while on the other hand it wants the punishment to be a limited campaign,” he said while pointing out that this approach will allow the humanitarian crisis to continue in Syria.

If that was not the case the U.S. would not reject Turkey’s proposal to expand the scope of the operation to include Assad’s removal, he added.

He believes a security council resolution is possible if the West were able to make assurances about Assad to Russia and China.

“If the U.S. and other Western powers convince Russia and China that the buffer zone proposal would not be a campaign against the Assad regime, it would be possible then to have an approval from the council,” he said.

Currently far more than 1 million refugees, including 180,000 from the key northern Syrian border town of Kobani are currently hosted by Turkey. ISIL has already captured a large swath of territory in Syria along the Turkish border. 


Güncelleme Tarihi: 10 Ekim 2014, 11:27