Turkey and the United States will soon launch “comprehensive” air operations to flush Islamic State fighters from a zone in northern Syria bordering Turkey, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Reuters on Monday.
Detailed talks between Washington and Ankara on the plans were completed on Sunday, and regional allies including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, as well as Britain and France may also take part, Cavusoglu said in an interview.“The technical talks have been concluded, yesterday, and soon we will start this operation, comprehensive operations, against Daesh (Islamic State),” he said.
The United States and Turkey plan to provide air cover for what Washington judges to be moderate Syrian rebels as part of the operations, which aim to flush Islamic State from a rectangle of border territory roughly 80-km long, officials familiar with the plans have said.
Diplomats say cutting Islamic State’s access to the Turkish border, across which it has been able to bring foreign fighters and supplies, could be a game-changer. US jets have already begun air strikes from Turkish bases in advance of the campaign.
Cavusoglu said the operations would also send a message to President Bashar al-Assad and help put pressure on his administration to come to the negotiating table and seek a political solution for Syria’s wider war.
Separately, the Turkish foreign minister said he welcomed the normalisation of Iran’s relations with some Western countries in the wake of its nuclear deal, but said Tehran now needed to take a “more constructive role” in regional crises including Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Turkey’s military operations against Kurdish militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey, where Ankara has been carrying out air strikes over the past month, would continue until the group laid down its weapons, Cavusoglu also said.
Ankara, long criticised for failing to stop the flow of Jihadists to-and-fro across its border with Syria, has so far concentrated an almost two-week “anti-terror” campaign on the bombing of Kurdish militants.
But Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu indicated that Turkey would be stepping up its campaign against IS Jihadists after it gave permission for US forces to conduct armed missions from its Incirlik air base.
“The US planes have begun arriving and soon we will launch a comprehensive fight against Daesh all together,” he said, using a pejorative Arabic acronym for IS.
Ankara is waging a two-pronged bombing campaign against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels as well as IS militants, following a wave of violence inside Turkey.
But so far the raids have overwhelmingly targeted the Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq and southeast Turkey, to the dismay of those who want to see Ankara play a fuller role in the US-led coalition against IS.
Cavusoglu said at the start of the meeting with Kerry that the operation would be helped by moderate Syrian rebels that the US and Turkey are hoping to jointly train.
“Now we are training and equipping the moderate (Syrian) opposition together with the United States, and we will also start our fight against Daesh very effectively soon,” Cavusoglu said.
“Then the ground will be safer for the moderate opposition that are fighting Daesh.” The two top diplomats met at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur on the sidelines of a regional security gathering hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.