The U.S. military is considering shifting some forces to northeast Syria in hopes that it will help ease tensions with Turkey by creating a buffer zone along the two countries’ border, CNN has learned from an American defense official, who stressed that a decision is yet to be made.
The official also said that in case additional troops are sent to Syria to patrol the proposed buffer zone, they will most probably be redeployed from elsewhere in the region.
The United States and Turkey have been making joint efforts to establish a buffer zone in northeast Syria, which the U.S. has said will serve as a “security mechanism.” The move is part of a broader effort to prevent a military incursion into the area that would target Syrian Kurdish groups and, in turn, diminish abilities to combat ISIS in the region.
The New York Times informs that about 150 troops would be deployed to the Syria-Turkish border. The U.S. currently has fewer than 1,000 troops, who mainly help combat the remaining pockets of Islamic State fighters.
Tensions with the NATO ally have been high lately over the U.S. support of Syrian Kurdish fighter, which Turkey considers terrorists and the effort aims to alleviate them.
“Turkey could be a spoiler of U.S. policy regarding Iran, Iraq, Syria and ISIS, or it could be a facilitator,” said Soner Cagaptay, the director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long pushed for creating a buffer zone, saying last week that he would like to send Syrian refugees there or otherwise let them flood Europe. But he has also been insisting that Kurdish forces not be part of the zone, an idea that drew the criticism of the Pentagon.
“The United States opposes any forced or coerced relocations of refugees or I.D.P.s,” said Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman. “If and when conditions allow, any returns must be to a destination of the individual’s own choosing, and must be voluntary, safe and dignified.”