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Would A Buffer Zone In Syria Stop ISIS From Spreading?

Turkey is trying to convince the U.S. to establish a buffer zone in Syria to help defeat ISIS, but the White House is skeptical of the plan.
Posted at 9:07 PM, Oct 10, 2014

Turkey shares a 717-mile border with Syria and Iraq, which means for the past six months it's been shoulder-to-shoulder with ISIS militants. 

And it's been an absolute headache for the large and comparatively developed nation, which has absorbed millions of Syrian refugees since 2011. (Video via United Nations)

But Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan thinks he has a plan to stop the flow of refugees and stabilize the chaotic region.

"Well, Turkey has really wanted a buffer zone to try to protect itself, really, from that ongoing civil war in Syria going on for years now. ... We don't know how large it would be, presumably to house refugees which are now streaming into Turkey."

The buffer zone would be a strip of Syrian land along the Turkish border that Turkey and international partners would defend as their own, giving the country space between ISIS militants and its actual border.  

Vox explains it as a "safe area ... controlled by some combination of foreign military peacekeepers and moderate Syrian rebels."

Turkey, whose parliament has already approved military intervention in Syria, argues the zone would protect civilians, provide space for UN refugee camps, and give breathing room to forces fighting ISIS. (Video via Euronews)

There's only one problem: Turkey needs U.S. air support to create the buffer, and so far the White House doesn't seem ready to give it. 

The reason? Turkey has so far refused to engage its military against ISIS, and President Obama isn't happy about it. A senior White House official told The New York Times: "There's growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet. ... They're inventing reasons not to act."

It's also been the target of thinly veiled criticism from the State Department: "The United States has already contributed more than $113 million. We'll continue to do more, but other countries really need to step up to the plate."

And although Turkey says the buffer zone is only meant to help defeat ISIS, to the state of Syria it will look a lot like an invasion. Turkey is suspected of wanting to oust President Bashar al-Assad as much as it wants to drive back the Islamic State.   

There's also the fact that buffer zones are difficult to implement: In 1995 a similar zone in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica was too weak, leading to the slaughter of 8,000 Bosnians at the hands of Serbian militants.

But if it's too strong, you risk a full-out war between Syria and Western powers — something President Obama has promised to avoid.

"As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers there. No military solutions that can eliminate the suffering anytime soon."

Despite White House skepticism, the buffer zone is still officially under review — a sign that in this situation, just because a solution is bad doesn't necessarily mean there's any better alternative.

This video includes images from Getty Images.