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MURAT YETKİN > Ankara wants al-Assad out the sooner the better

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"When a northern European country made an announcement about its concerns regarding an increased number of refugees from Syria we had a look how many refugees they were talking about. It was around 300 and that made me really upset," a Turkish official said.

The high-ranking official, who wished to remain anonymous, then explained what made him upset. The flow of refugees from the Syrian civil war is well over 100,000 according to official figures. Some 84,000 of these refugees are being officially registered in camps along the 910 km long Turkish-Syrian border, with the number increasing every other day.

It’s not only the number of refugees Turkey is worried about. Security threats stemming from the ongoing situation are worsening. The attacks from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have escalated since the escalation of the Syrian war. Ankara sees Syrian and Iranian support behind that.

Hundreds were killed in PKK attacks and clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces since the end of July in the Şemdinli-Hakkari region bordering both Iraq and Iran (and spreading further west and north into the country) to add up to more than 40,000 in the last three decades.

Syria’s capacity for biological and chemical weapons, plus their ballistic missiles is another worry for Turkey, a country hosting major NATO defense facilities like the İncirlik air base and the Malatya early warning radar station of the Missile Shield system.

Another problem has recently arisen. The armed Syrian opposition has serious command and control issues. Only around a quarter of an estimated 40,000 militants of the opposition groups are organized under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army, which is linked with the Syrian National Council. Both groups have their headquarters in Turkey. As the situation continues, Ankara believes there would be more and more radical Islamist groups from the Al-Qaeda to the Tahvid looking to infiltrate the Syrian opposition groups, jeopardizing the long-run security in the region.

“We are trying to explain to Americans that as the imminent fall of the Bashar al-Assad gets delayed longer, the security threats in the region will get bigger,” the Turkish official said.

Yesterday fighting between the Syrian army and the FSA militants reached the Turkish border town of Akçakale and ended with the Syrian border post there falling into the hands of the opposition while Turkish citizens watched the fighting live on their TV sets.

Ankara believes the United States will take a “more clear and bold” stance following the presidential elections on Nov. 6. “What Turkey wants is not direct military intervention” the source said. “But we want this chaos to come to an end and the sooner the better. It is not possible to have negotiations between al-Assad and the opposition after this stage, it is not practical. Shortening this process is in Turkey’s best interests and actually in the whole region’s interests. If that means helping the opposition, then yes, Turkey is in.”

September/20/2012

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