President Trump: I 'Absolutely' Will Put Safe Zones in Syria

Trump made the announcement in an exclusive interview with ABC News.

ByABC News
January 26, 2017, 2:47 PM

— -- President Donald Trump has a plan for controlling the number of Syrian refugees flooding into Europe.

"I'll absolutely do safe zones in Syria," Trump told ABC's David Muir Wednesday.

"Safe zones" refer to protected havens inside Syria for civilians displaced by the violent conflict -- areas that would need to be established by the U.S. military. The Obama administration considered the idea, but ultimately decided against it, partly out of fear of being drawn into a broader military conflict with Russia and Syrian forces, which together have waged a massive assault against rebel forces.

Trump told Muir safe zones are a necessary tool in stemming the flow of refugees into Europe and neighboring countries, which he said has been a "disaster."

Safe zones have been advocated by prominent Democrats as well, most notably by Trump's campaign rival Hillary Clinton and by Obama's former secretary of state, John Kerry.

Turkey, which has been greatly affected by the refugee crisis, also wants safe zones in norther Syria and could potentially partner with the U.S. in such an effort. Turkey's Foreign Minister Huseyin Muftuoglu said today he'd seen Trump's comments but held off on commenting further, adding that he would like to see the plans for how this would be enforced first.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, said today that Washington did not consult Moscow regarding the creation of safe zones in Syria because high level contacts have yet to be established between the Trump White House and the Kremlin.

Trump did not provide any details about how the safe zones would be enforced. Previous assessments by the Obama administration found that the process could include the establishment of a no-fly zone.

An unclassified assessment prepared in 2013 by Obama's former chief of staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said a no-fly zone over just one area of Syria could require "hundreds of ground and sea-based aircraft, intelligence and electronic warfare support, and enablers for refueling and communications." He said the Pentagon would be required to deploy "thousands of ground forces" and that maintaining such an effort could average as much as $1 billion per month.

He also said there's a risk "that American jets could be downed."

The Pentagon refused to comment on whether Trump's new secretary of defense, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, supported U.S. military involvement in safe zones in Syria.

"I will tell you right now, what you’re asking about is based on things that are draft and pre-decisional and we’re just not going to be able to comment on pre-decisional things that may or not reflect what ultimately comes out," spokesman Jeff Davis said in today's Pentagon briefing. "Our focus right now is what it has always been -- the degrading and defeating of ISIL."

Davis added that Mattis had not received an order regarding "safe zones" in Syria.

ABC's Elizabeth McLaughlin and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

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