The United States and Turkey seem to be having increasingly detailed discussions about establishing a no-fly zone (or “buffer zone”) inside the northern Syrian border adjacent to Turkey. The press reports that Turkey is conditioning the U.S. use of Turkey’s Incirlik air base for armed flights on the U.S. willingness to establish such a zone. The Administration has been coy about its plans, but the topic surely is the subject of internal U.S. consideration right now.

The buffer zone idea raises both policy and legal questions. As a policy and factual matter, it is not entirely clear what proposals are on the table and what the goals of a buffer zone would be. The Post suggests that the protected buffer zone inside Syria would be up to 100 miles long and 20 miles deep into Syrian territory. (The Post article includes a map showing where the zone might be located.) According to the Times, the area could protect civilians from airstrikes by the Syrian government, but the article also suggests that the zone (which the article, somewhat confusingly, states might be inside Turkey rather than Syria) could protect Syrian rebels and civilians from attacks both by Assad’s government and by ISIS. The Post indicates that the zone would be part of an offensive to push back ISIS militants along the western part of Syria’s border with Turkey and create a safe zone for U.S.-backed Syrian rebel forces to move in. Establishing such a zone might require the United States to disable Syria’s air defense systems.

Ashley S. Deeks, A "Buffer Zone" Inside Syria, and Its Complications, Lawfare (December 5, 2014).