Turkey wants Syria ground operation, but says no consensus among allies
ANKARA - Reuters
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu answers a question during an interview with Reuters in Ankara, Turkey, February 16, 2016. REUTERS Photo
Turkey, Saudi Arabia and some European allies want ground troops deployed in Syria but there is no consensus in the coalition and a strategy for such an operation has not been seriously debated, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said.
Russian air strikes have helped to bring the Syrian army to within 25 kilometers of Turkey’s borders, while Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which are regarded by Ankara as terrorist organizations as they are linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), with which Turkey is in armed clashed since the mid-1980s, have also gained ground, heightening the sense of urgency.
Çavuşoğlu told Reuters that any operation could not be left to regional powers alone.
“Some countries like us, Saudi Arabia and some other Western European countries have said that a ground operation is necessary ... But to expect this only from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar is neither right nor realistic,” he said in an interview published on Feb. 17.
“If such an operation is to take place, it has to be carried out jointly, like the [coalition] air strikes,” he said.
Washington has so far ruled out sending its own ground troops into Syria, apart from small numbers of special forces.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Feb. 16 ruled out all plans to launch a ground operation in Syria.
“There’s no plans to put ground troops, at least on the part of the U.S., into Syria.,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Feb. 16 during a daily press briefing.
But Sunni Arab Gulf states including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have said they are ready to send ground forces as part of an international coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), providing Washington takes the lead.
Çavuşoğlu said Turkey had repeatedly made the case for a more comprehensive strategy in Syria beyond air strikes but it had not been discussed seriously by the U.S.-led coalition.
“Of course, there would be air strikes but a cleansing on the ground is also needed. I stated in every meeting ... that Daesh could not be destroyed or stopped by air strikes,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
“The coalition has not given this ground operation issue serious debate. There were opponents, and there were those who weren’t going to take part but expressed a desire for Turkey or another country doing it.”
Çavuşoğlu said Turkey supported the resumption of negotiations for a political solution in Syria but that they would go nowhere if Syrian government forces did not first halt their bombardments.
U.N.-backed peace talks, which were suspended earlier this month, are scheduled to resume in Geneva on Feb. 25.
“One needs to be realistic. While bombs are falling from the sky and people are being massacred under the pressure of the regime or are being starved, the talks cannot be very fruitful,” Çavuşoğlu said.