Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu: Coalition To Start ‘Comprehensive Battle’ Against ISIS Soon
Turkey said on Wednesday a U.S.-led coalition will soon launch a “comprehensive battle” against Islamic State militants from Turkish air bases, but Syria said any military action not coordinated with Damascus would breach its sovereignty.
NATO-member Turkey formally agreed to open its air bases to U.S. and coalition aircraft last month, a major policy change after years of reluctance in taking a frontline role against the Islamist fighters pressing on its borders.
Ankara and Washington have been working on plans to provide air cover for a group of U.S.-trained Syrian rebels and jointly sweep Islamic State from a strip of territory stretching about 80 km (50 miles) along the Turkish frontier.
“As part of our agreement with the U.S. we have made progress regarding the opening up of our bases, particularly Incirlik,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state broadcaster TRT, referring to a major air base near the southern city of Adana.
“We’re seeing that manned and unmanned American planes are arriving and soon we will launch a comprehensive battle against Islamic State all together,” he said during a trip to Malaysia.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem was quoted by state television on Wednesday as saying Syria supported efforts to combat Islamic State provided they were coordinated with Damascus.
“For us in Syria there is no moderate opposition and immoderate opposition. Whoever carries weapons against the state is a terrorist,” he was quoted as saying during a visit to ally Iran, adding Damascus had been informed about the presence of the U.S.-trained rebels.
“The United States contacted us before they sent in this group and said they are fighting against Daesh (Islamic State) and not the Syrian army at all,” he said.
“We said we support any effort to combat Daesh in coordination and consultation with the Syrian government, otherwise it will be a breach of Syrian sovereignty.”
Diplomats familiar with the coalition plans say cutting off Islamic State’s access to the Turkish border, over which foreign fighters and supplies have flowed, could be a game-changer in the fight against the insurgents.
The core of the U.S.-trained rebels, who number fewer than 60, will be highly equipped and be able to call in close air support when needed, they say.
Washington said on Tuesday it had indications some of the rebels trained by its military were captured by fighters from al Qaeda’s Syria wing, Nusra Front, underscoring the vulnerability of a group only deployed to the battlefield in recent weeks.
Turkey is meanwhile distrustful of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which has proved a useful U.S. ally in fighting Islamic State, and which controls adjacent territory. Ankara wants the Kurdish guerrillas to advance no further than the Euphrates river, on the eastern fringe of the planned “safe zone.”