During a defense subcommittee hearing on the 2016 fiscal year budget request for the US Department of Defense, two top officials gave conflicting views on whether establishing a humanitarian safe zone on the Turkey-Syria border was a viable option.
General Martin Dempsey, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Ash Carter, Defense Secretary, testified Wednesday morning on the 2016 proposed budget for the Department of Defense.
Asked about the practicality of creating a safe haven in northern Syria to protect civilians, Carter told the subcommittee that “doing something like that would be contested by both ISIL forces and Al Nusra and other groups on the one hand and by the Syrian forces on the other and would not necessarily be supported by the neighbors.”
Carter called it “a major combat mission” and added that the US “would need to fight to create such a space and then fight to keep such a space.”
Dempsey, on the other hand, as the top-ranking US military officer, had a different opinion. He conceded that the ISIS, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and the Syrian regime would prove to be a challenge to the safe zone but he supported its creation and affirmed that the US could do it.
“It is practical militarily but it would be a significant policy decision to do so,” he said. “I can tell you that militarily, the US CENTCOM, in conjunction with European command and our Turkish counterparts, we’ve been planning for such a contingency for some time.”
The significant policy decision Dempsey refers to would mean the redeployment of troops stationed in other zones that would no longer be available for other missions.
Turkey has long been asking for a buffer zone in northern Syria to provide shelter for Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons.
While Turkey’s proposal for establishing a buffer zone is supported by some anti-ISIS coalition members such as France, Washington has yet to consider implementing the proposal.