Turkey, US hold joint helicopter flight over Syria amid Kalın-Bolton discussions on safe zone

Flights are part of first phase implementations of safe zone in eastern Euphrates, says Turkish National Defense Ministry

Turkish National Defense Ministry on Thursday announced that two Turkish and two U.S. helicopters conducted a joint flight over the eastern Euphrates in Syria.

In a statement on social media, the ministry said the joint helicopter flight was part of the first phase implementations for the establishment of a safe zone in the region.

The first joint reconnaissance flight was carried out with a U.S. helicopter on Aug. 24, said Turkey’s National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar earlier.

Turkish and U.S. military officials reached an agreement on Aug. 7 that the safe zone in northern Syria will serve as a “peace corridor” for displaced Syrians longing to return home and a Joint Operations Center in Turkey will be set up to coordinate its establishment.

Turkey sees the establishment of the safe zone in northern Syria crucial and wants to be in control. Ankara seeks to eradicate YPG terror elements, which is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror group.

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK — listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU — has been responsible for the deaths of some 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants.

Notably, Turkey is currently home to over 3.6 million displaced Syrians who fled the conflict-prone environment of Syria.

In a Thursday statement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey aimed to settle at least a million of these Syrians to the planned safe zone along Turkey’s border with Syria.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

Turkey’s Kalın, US Security Adviser Bolton discuss Syria safe zone

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın held a phone call with his U.S. counterpart National Security Adviser John Bolton to discuss an array of issues, including the latest developments in Syria and the proposed safe zone, as well as bilateral trade ties.

Turkey's Kalın, US Security Adviser Bolton discuss Syria safe zone, bilateral trade

Diplomatic sources said Kalın conveyed to Bolton that the Turkish side had completed preparations for the realization of the Turkish-U.S. joint operation plan without delay.

The call comes a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed international powers over their inaction on the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria.

He said the safe zone was nothing more than a name as no other country except Turkey was willing to take action. He also warned that the de-escalation zone in the Idlib region was slowly disappearing because of military attacks by Assad regime forces.

Last Saturday, the Turkish president asserted that Turkey will apply its own plan of action if Turkish soldiers are not allowed to control the safe zone in Syria. In three weeks, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session, Turkey will use the last possibility to find a compromise with the U.S. on building a safe zone along the eastern line of the Euphrates River, he said.

On Aug. 7, Turkish and U.S. military officials agreed to set up a safe zone and develop a peace corridor running from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border to facilitate the return of displaced Syrians currently living in Turkey to their home country and provide security for Turkish border settlements and military outposts. They also agreed to establish a joint operations center. The agreement envisages the setting up of measures necessary to address Turkey’s security concerns.

In addition, Kalın and Bolton also discussed U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s upcoming visit to Turkey on Sept. 6, the importance of the $100 billion bilateral trade target and how it will accelerate economic ties between the two countries.

During the visit, Turkish and U.S. delegations will be holding a series of meetings with businesspeople from both countries to discuss potential partnerships and sectoral studies together.

The duo also exchanged views on the situation in Libya and the fight against terrorism.