President Donald Trump is preparing to order the State Department and the Department of Defense to propose plans for setting up safe zone for Syrians fleeing the civil war, inside the country and in neighboring states, Reuters reported Wednesday citing a document the news agency had obtained.
In an interview with ABC News later Wednesday, Trump said he will “absolutely do safe zones in Syria” for people fleeing violence there.
“I think that Europe has made a tremendous mistake by allowing these millions of people to go into Germany and various other countries,” he said in the interview, a reference to the millions of refugees who began arriving in Europe in 2015, mainly via sea.
Creating safe zones in Syria a step the Obama administration had resisted taking, fearing further US involvement in the Syrian civil war, now in its sixth year, and a potential confrontation with the Syrian government backed by Iran and Russia, which are heavily involved and which are engaged in fierce ground and air campaigns against opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Syria and Russia have termed all rebel groups “bandits and terrorists.”
Russia said last year that it would consider a US creation of safe zones, or no-fly zones, in Syria without UN authorization, as “an act of direct military intervention.”
But US-Russia ties under Trump are expected to grow closer, with the president openly expressing admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his administration indicating that the US will work with any country, including Russia, to defeat the Islamic State terror group, which has declared a so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
The Obama administration launched a US-led coalition against the terror group in late 2014, with member states carrying out sustained airstrikes against the group. The US also has a minimal amount of troops on the ground in adviser positions to Iraqi forces and Kurdish fighters battling the terror organization.
The creation of safe zones would likely require further US air support and possibly more significant ground forces, including for security.
“The Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Secretary of Defense, is directed within 90 days of the date of this order to produce a plan to provide safe areas in Syria and in the surrounding region in which Syrian nationals displaced from their homeland can await firm settlement, such as repatriation or potential third-country resettlement,” the draft order, obtained by Reuters, reads.
The document, according to Reuters, makes no mention of what would constitute a safe zone, where they would be and which forces would defend them.
“All the questions of setting up a safe zone are still there,” a US official told Reuters. “If you’re going to declare a safe zone, there’s a lot of other things” that would have to be considered and set up before that becomes an option.
According to Reuters, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, “has warned that any move to deny Syria and Russia access to all of Syria’s airspace would require the US to ‘go to war against Syria and Russia.'”
The draft order is part of a wider document that includes a temporary ban on almost all refugees to the US and the suspension of visas to anyone traveling from Syria, as well as Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya.
The Syrian civil war has claimed over 400,000 lives, according to UN figures, and has displaced millions, many of which are in refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey.