The new “Syrian Safe Zone” that the US and Turkey have agreed to create will be some 60 miles of “moderate insurgent” held territory along the Turkish border. Officials still haven’t decided how wide it will be, but more importantly they also haven’t decided who these moderate insurgents even are.
“We have to sit down with the Turks and figure it out,” noted one official familiar with the situation, who said the US had a much easier time deciding on rebel groups “we absolutely will not work with,” but seem to be struggling to figure out who that leaves.
The obvious choice, in theory, is the US-trained New Syrian Forces (NSF), who were created to fight ISIS in the first place. Giving them territory carved at least in part out of ISIS land would make sense from a US perspective, but the reality is that the US only managed to train 54 people, so they’re not exactly up to the task of ruling the new US fiefdom.
The Kurds would be another candidate from the US perspective, since they are more numerous in the region and are being backed by the US, but Turkey would never allow that, and has been fighting the Kurds as much as ISIS. From Turkey’s perspective, al-Qaeda seems to be the least-objectionable rebel faction, but selling that idea to the US may be difficult as well.