Former CIA director and top US general David Petraeus has urged the Obama administration to establish safe zones protected by US-led coalition air power in order to help moderate opposition groups operate freely and redirect displaced people into secured areas in the country.
Petraeus made the comments on Tuesday during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in his first public remarks following his resignation from the CIA’s top post in 2012.
He was the commanding general of the US-led Multi-National Force of Iraq (MNF-I) between February 2007 and September 2008.
He described safe zones as “enclaves” which should be guarded by US trained and backed Syrian opposition groups. He also said that a few American military personnel in advisory and supporting capacity should be deployed in those safe areas, according to the New York Times.
Turkey has consistently defended a plan to establish safe areas and no-fly-zones in Syria. Turkish Foreign Ministry previously indicated that refugees who stay in Turkey and neighbouring countries could be settled in the “safe” areas which will be cleared from ISIS by Turkey and US-led coalition forces following effective operations against the group.
In early September, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his government has vigorously tried to persuade world leaders to establish a safe zone in northern Syria in order to help relocate refugees and displaced people back into the country.
However, Davutoglu has complained nobody paid attention to this proposal and the need to address the refugee crisis.
The American general also touched on the still inconclusive debate concerning whether military intervention to Syria is necessary or not in his comments.
“It is frequently said that there is no military solution to Syria or the other conflicts roiling the Middle East,” Petraeus said.
“This may be true, but it is also misleading. For, in every case, if there is to be any hope of a political settlement, a certain military and security context is required, and that context will not materialize on its own. We and our partners need to facilitate it — and over the past four years, we have not done so."
Turkish media recently reported that Turkey and the US signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) determining allied military planning in order to clear ISIS forces from an area between Marea and Jarablus in northern Syria. The reports put the length of the proposed area at 98 kilometers.
Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces will also be deployed in the areas cleared from ISIS by the allied forces according to the MOU.
The allies have referred to the areas as an “ISIS-free zone,” according to recent media reports.