US team in Turkey begins work on Syrian safe zone

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A U.S. delegation has arrived in Turkey to begin establishing an operations center to coordinate a planned safe zone in Syria, the Turkish Defense Ministry announced Monday.

The six-person delegation traveled to the southern Turkish province of Sanliurfa, where “work is underway to establish a Joint Action Center for the Safe Zone, which is planned to be coordinated with the US in the north of Syria,” according to a tweet from Ankara’s Ministry of National Defense.

Turkey in a separate tweet described the work as “preliminary preparation,” with an operation center to be running “in the coming days.”{mosads}

The State Department and the Turkish Defense Ministry announced last week that they have agreed to work to establish the operation center after months of deadlocked negotiations between the NATO allies over the size and command of the zone.

Ankara has been pushing for joint control with the U.S. on a 19- to 25-mile zone east of the Euphrates River, while Washington has proposed a safe zone size that extends much less further into Syria than Turkey wants.

Turkey also insists that the zone have no U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish troops present. Turkey considers them terrorists aligned with an insurgency within their country.

Known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish militias have used U.S. funding and training to fight ISIS fighters in northern Syria.

Earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeated a threat to cross into Syria, going against U.S. wishes, if Turkey’s conditions for a safe zone in the northern part of the country are not met.

In response, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that the United States would find such an incursion into northern Syria “unacceptable” and would seek to prevent such an operation.

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