ANKARA, Oct. 20 (Xinhua) -- Overburdened with a swelling refugee crisis from Syria and alarmed by a rising terror threat, Turkey is pushing for an establishment of a buffer zone within Syrian territory to create a safety enclave for the civilians fleeing the conflict areas as well as to put an effective fight against terrorists.
On Thursday, Turkey's National Security Council MGK, which brings together top civilian and military officials, vowed determination and strong will to protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity amid increasing terrorist activity and escalating tension along the Turkish-Syrian border.
The country, home to over 100,000 Syrian refugees, has been embracing for much more before the harsh winter sets in in the region. Yet, the lack of will on the part of the international community or in the region for that matter, for creating such zones in Syria has thwarted Turkish efforts to obtain a mandate from the UN Security Council resolution.
"Turkey, as a frontline country in this crisis, has some good arguments for the buffer zone but it does not have the necessary support at this time," Selcuk Colakoglu, analyst at Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) told Xinhua.
"Faced with looming humanitarian crisis in Syria, Turkey is scrambling to find a solution to the refugee problem by trying to enlist the help from regional and global powers," Colakoglu said, predicting that Turkey will shy away from unilaterally intervening into Syria for buffer zone.
Turkey's NATO partners fear that creating a buffer zone for humanitarian reasons would require a significant military commitment including air protection in terms of no-fly zone and may risk military confrontation with the Syrian army. NATO is not prepared to act at this time though it has drawn up contingencies in case the situation escalates in a member country's border with Syria.
COPING WITH MORE REFUGEES
Turkey believes setting up a safe zone will deliver a significant warning to the embattled Syrian President Bashar al- Assad administration and may help decrease violence. It fears, in the absence of the safe zone, the number of refugees will be drastically up.
The number of Syrian refugees officially registered in Turkish camps has already exceeded 100,000, which is described by Ankara as a "psychological threshold." Turkey's open border policy remains in effect but the country has apparently run out of capacity to accommodate large number of refugees in refugee camps.
From time to time, the Syrian refugees were forced to wait on the Syrian side of the border until the Turkish government set up new centers to host the new comers. This prompted an outcry from advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW), which criticized Turkey for unlawfully preventing thousands of Syrians from entering.
Turkish officials deny these claims, saying it was simply matters of logistics before more Syrian were allowed to cross into Turkey. "We have run out of capacity in refugee centers and we are striving to establish new ones quickly so that new arrivals can be taken into these centers," a government official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
NO-FLY ZONE IS DIFFICULT
Ankara also believes that the safe zone will serve as a conduit for getting humanitarian aid to the huge numbers of displaced people inside Syria, estimated to be in their millions.
But creating buffer zone is easier said than done. Henri Barkey, professor of international relations at Pennsylvania-based Lehigh University, started a discussion last week in Turkey when he said that Turkish military does not have experience to handle the setting up of the buffer zone in Syria.
Barkey, an expert on Turkey, claimed that Ankara turned to the United States and has been putting pressure on it to help create a buffer zone.
"But even the U.S. cannot do this, because Syria's anti- aircraft system, designed to guard against Israel, is incredibly sophisticated," Barkey emphasized.
Others disagree. "The Turkish armed forces have both the capacity and the experience to perform such an operation," Erdogan Karakus, a retired three-star air force general said, warning however that it may come with a huge financial cost and the loss of lives.
Mete Yarar, a security expert, acknowledged that Turkey may lack experience in setting buffer zones but the Turkish Air Force is well equipped to handle in enforcing no-fly zones.
"Turkish Air Force has taken part in past no-fly zone operations," he said, recalling Turkish jet's active participation in enforcing no-fly zones in Iraq and in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. "Turkey was also part of enforcement in Libya recently, " he added.
COST ON THE RISE
As the number of refugees with Turkey's open door policy is on the rise, the cost associated with taking care of them is also increasing. Yet, there is no substantial aid from Turkey's international partners, government complains.
The U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last week that Turkey, along with Jordan, needs urgent help to provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian refugees it is hosting.
Turkey has spent about 300 million U.S. dollars on the refugees so far. The figure includes 221 million dollars direct transfer from the treasury, according to Finance Ministry, and it does not include expenses incurred by the municipalities at the border provinces and the money spent by other branches of the government entrusted to deal with refugees.
SAFE ZONE TO DENY SANCTUARY FOR TERRORISTS
Turkey is not motivated solely on the ground of humanitarian purposes when it proposed setting up a buffer zone in Syria. The concerns over terrorism be it from the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), listed as terror organization by the United States, the European Union and Turkey, or from al-Qaida, also prompts Turkey to screen refugees carefully before allowing their entry.
Ankara believes the safe zone will help prevent the spillover of terrorist element from Syria.
In September, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said a power vacuum on the Syrian side of the Turkish-Syrian border is a huge security threat to Turkey. He warned that some terrorist groups might benefit from the power vacuum in order to create instability.
"If you don't take certain measures or certain steps on time, in the future you will be facing more risks," said Davutoglu.
Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of Ankara's International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM), told Xinhua that Turkey believes it can deny sanctuary to the PKK and other terrorist organization in Syria if it establishes a safe zone there.
"The calculation is that the military will have a freehand to root out terror elements in the North of Syria if Turkey has a mandate to intervene," he said.
Turkey has vowed it will not allow terrorist groups like the PKK or al-Qaida to establish a presence in war-torn Syria near the Turkish border. Ankara was alarmed in August when the PKK affiliated group in Syria took over control of five Syrian cities near the Turkish border after the Syrian army withdrew from the region to concentrate on the fight against the opposition in more central cities such as Aleppo and Damascus.