U.S. pledges safe zones in Syria for refugees

Claudine Rigal
Mars 24, 2017

Foreign ministers from 68 countries will meet in Washington on Wednesday to agree on the next steps to defeat ISIL, the first such gathering of the US-led military coalition since the election of President Donald Trump in November.

He said, "as a coalition, we are not in the business of nation building, or reconstruction". The goal, he noted, is to allow refugees to return home safely once IS fighters are no longer a threat.

Turkey has been calling for the safe zones for years, and has envisioned them being used as a base of operation for pro-Turkey rebels to operate out of without fear of being retaliated against militarily.

He noted that as traveling to Iraq and Syria as a fighter has become more hard, ISIS's new call to potential recruits has become, "Stay where you are...wage war in Daesh's name wherever you live".

Defeating the terrorist group is the "number one U.S. goal in the region", Tillerson said, adding that the coalition will focus on "regional elimination of ISIS through military force". Though Turkey now controls territory that could be used for such zones, it is likely the U.S. would be expected to deploy a lot of troops to secure those areas.

"I recognize there are many pressing challenges in the Middle East, but defeating ISIS is the United States' number one goal in the region", Tillerson said.

Creating such safe havens could ratchet up U.S. military involvement in Syria and mark a major departure from President Barack Obama's more cautious approach.

In areas being cleared of the Islamic State by the coalition in both Syria and Iraq, the United States plans to install interim local governance during an upcoming "stability phase".

Among the topics that were expected to be taken up according to ABC News are strategies to disrupt financing for ISIS and the flow of foreign fighters, prosecution of fighters upon their return to their respective countries and putting pressure on terror groups affiliated with ISIS.

"We must ensure that our respective nations' precious and limited resources are devoted to preventing the resurgence of ISIS", he said.

Tillerson said the stabilization phase would include what he called "interim zones of stability" in Iraq and Syria.

While the the hardline group is overwhelmingly outnumbered by Iraqi forces, it has been using suicide auto bombs and snipers to defend its remaining strongholds.

Iraqi government forces, backed by the US-led worldwide coalition, retook several Iraqi cities from ISIS past year and have liberated eastern Mosul.

The United Nations has warned of catastrophic flooding in Syria from the Tabqa dam, which is at risk from high water levels, deliberate sabotage by Islamic State and further damage from air strikes by the U.S-led coalition.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is supported by Russian Federation and Iran, has said he saw scope for cooperation with Trump, although he has dismissed the US-backed military campaign against ISIL in Syria as "only a few raids".

He said Iraq was now at the stage of "destroying" Islamic State, not just "containing" it.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is pictured at the State Department on March 22.

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