Erdogan warns US-planned Syria safe zone must be under Turkey's control

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned the United States and allies operating along the Syria border that any safe zone planned for the area should be under Ankara’s control.

Erdogan said in an interview aired late on Saturday that plans by the US and European military forces to set up a safe zone along Syria’s border with Turkey should be coordinated with Ankara, reiterating that the Turkish military should have control over such initiatives.

“If there is to be a safe zone along our border then it must be under our control. Because that is my border,” Erdogan told broadcaster CNN Turk.

The warnings came as Washington revised plans for a total pull-out of troops from Syria by saying that it will form part of the contingent of 800 to 1,500 troops meant to police northeastern Syria in the near future.

Around 400 US troops will remain in Syria to contribute to the safe zone and other plans, according to a Friday statement by a US administration official, which was seen as a reversal of promises by President Donald Trump to withdraw all 2,000 US troops from the Arab country once Washington’s alleged fight against terrorism ends.

However, Turkey suspects the US and allies are helping the Kurdish YPG forces operating east of the Euphrates river to establish a permanent foothold in the region. Ankara views the armed Kurds in northeastern Syria as an extension of its outlawed Kurdish militants.

“It is important for us that the U.S. decision to withdraw from Syria does not lead to developments against the interests of our countries and Syria’s political unity and territorial integrity,” said Erdogan.

The Turkish military has launched several operations to push back the Kurds from west of the Euphrates while authorities have repeatedly warned that they would continue the battle into the other bank of the river where the US and European allies plan to set up the safe zone.

Erdogan said Turkey’s border regions would be the first to be affected by the heavy gunfire from Syria if the safe zone is violated.

“I will take my precaution in the opposite country,” he said, adding that Ankara had the right to conduct operations inside Syria near the Turkish border based on a 1998-agreement signed with the Syrian government.

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