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Admittedly I'm confused about the renewed demands of Erdogan for a 30-km buffer zone in Syria.

Erdogan has repeatedly said over the past weeks that he’s planning a major military operation to create a 30-kilometer (19 mile) deep buffer zone inside Syria along Turkey’s border, through a cross-border incursion against U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters — an attempt that failed in 2019.

I thought they had achieved one such zone in cooperation with the Russians back in 2019? (The one which Erdogan semi-famously waved at the UN.) Or if not, how did that one fall through?

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    N.B. there's a pretty confusing Wikipedia article on this too. On one hand, it says the zone is still operational. On the other, it says the last joint patrol was in 2020, so I'm guess some level of breakdown happened, but it's not terribly clear.
    – Fizz
    Jun 12 at 20:36

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The buffer zone was removed in early October of 2019 when then-President Trump pulled all American troops from this zone after a phone call with Erdogan, breaking long-time alliances and allowing Turkish troops to swarm in and massacre long-time US allies in the war against ISIS, the Syrian Democratic Forces, otherwise known as the ethnic Kurds.

However, the US troops were not there just to keep peace between Syria and Turkey, but also sat as a mid-range nuclear deterrent against Russia's invasion of Europe since the cold war. 50 US B61 nuclear bombs are at Incirlik Air Base, just 100 miles from the Syrian border, since around the Bay of Pigs.

Unfortunately for Turkey, the buffer zone was for both parties' safety, and when the Kurds began to rally a counteroffensive, Turkey sought to have the buffer zone reinstated.

The only party willing to step into the power vacuum was Russia, which has long been at odds with Turkey, and was hoping for access to Incirlik if the Turks ever kicked the US out of Turkey entirely. While this buffer zone (known as the Second Northern Syria Buffer Zone) has remained intact since then, it has been with much infighting between the Turks and the Russians, especially once Russia began de-prioritizing their patrols in the first months of 2022.

So while we haven't yet received his explicit motivations, seeing his logic up to this point seems to suggest that he was willing to put up with the Russians when it meant (near)-complete safety on their southern border without having to commit most of his troops. Now that the buffer is becoming porous, the cost of keeping the Russians is outweighing the benefit.

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    So what is Erdogan asking for exactly? That he replace Russian patrols with his own? I.e. gain exclusive control of this zone?
    – Fizz
    Jun 15 at 2:20
  • @Fizz He hasn't yet explicitly said, but following the logic of what's happened so far and his motivations up to this point, it would appear that he agreed to Russian joint operations in exchange for a hard buffer. When Russia stopped holding up their end of the bargain, ISIL started slipping in between the cracks. hurriyetdailynews.com/…
    – Carduus
    Jun 16 at 12:39
  • @Fizz So yes, it appears he'd rather pay the price in scant military assets than risk further bombings in border cities.
    – Carduus
    Jun 16 at 12:41

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