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US Denies Deal Close on Syria/Turkey Safe Zone


Smoke rises from central Kobani during fighting between Islamic State militants and Kurdish forces, as seen from the Turkish side of the Turkey-Syria border, Nov. 24, 2014.

Smoke rises from central Kobani during fighting between Islamic State militants and Kurdish forces, as seen from the Turkish side of the Turkey-Syria border, Nov. 24, 2014.

The U.S. military is downplaying the idea of creating a buffer zone along the Syrian-Turkish border, after a report said a deal with Turkey on military coordination was near.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Turkish and U.S. officials were close to a deal allowing U.S. and allied forces to use Turkish air bases in the fight against the Islamic State group, and the deal could include the creation of a safe zone along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren:

"We are in discussions with the Turks. Right now, we don't believe a buffer zone is the best way to relieve the humanitarian crisis there in northern Syria," said Warren.

A protected zone along the border between Turkey and Syria could help protect supply lines to those fighting Islamic State militants and those funneling humanitarian aid to those in need.

I asked Colonel Warren what might be better than a buffer zone to relieve the situation.

"Continuing for us to apply pressure on ISIL is probably the most effective way to relieve that crisis," he said.

The Turkish plan to create a buffer zone using air defense methods could risk dragging the U.S. and its allies further into Syria's three-year civil war.

Turkey and the U.S. have been at odds about priorities in Syria, with Ankara focused on removing the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Washington places more importance on the fight against the Islamic State group, which has seized control of a wide area in Syria and Iraq.

Having access to Turkish military bases for bombing runs on Islamic State targets would make the coalition's task easier.

The U.S.-led coalition has conducted about 1,120 air strikes against terrorist targets in the region, with 493 of those in Syria.

A U.S. Air Force pilot involved in that fight died early Monday when his F-16 crashed while returning to its base in the Middle East.

Pentagon spokesman Warren said the incident occurred before the pilot could carry out his combat mission.

"Apparently there were some maintenance problems upon takeoff. He turned around and unfortunately was not able to land," he said.

Warren would not identify where the accident occurred, citing host nation sensitivities.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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