Ankara ‘asking allies’ for ground op in Syria
AA photoTurkey is looking to drum up support for a ground operation in neighboring Syria together with its international allies to end the five-year-old civil war that has cost the lives of at least 260,000 people, an official has said.
“We are [telling] coalition partners that there should be a ground operation. We are discussing this with allies,” the official told reporters at a briefing in Istanbul, according to Reuters.
“There is not going to be a unilateral military operation from Turkey in Syria,” the official said, according to Agence France-Presse, but added: “Without a ground operation, it is impossible to stop the fighting in Syria.”
Tensions have escalated over Russia’s air war in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with Ankara branding it “vile, cruel and barbaric” and European Union President Donald Tusk saying it “leaves little hope” of a solution.
Turkey sees the ouster of al-Assad as essential to ending the conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people, and is highly critical of Iran and Russia over their support for Syria’s internationally recognized government.
“That is what we think. And we are the closest ones to Syria so we feel the negative effects [from the fighting] more than the others,” the official said.
“This has been voiced many times by us but we could not come to a conclusion” with allied states, he said.
The official was speaking after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on the weekend that Turkey and its ally Saudi Arabia could launch a ground operation in Syria, putatively against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
But the official said such a move needed to be made in concert with Turkey’s allies in the international coalition against ISIL, including the United States.
“Of course it is difficult to reckon what could happen in 10 days. If the conditions change there might be some options. But right now, we do not have such a plan,” the official said. “Our plan is to act in accordance with the international coalition. We are not going to do anything against the will of the coalition.”
Turkey had previously called for a safe area for refugees backed by a no-fly zone inside Syria close to the Turkish border but this proposal met with only a lukewarm reception from allies.
Asked what the aims of such a ground operation would be, the official said it should be to remove “all terror groups from Syria.”
The official said these included ISIL jihadists, the Syrian regime of al-Assad and the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
The United States has worked closely with the PYD in the fight against ISIL but Ankara regards the group as a terror organization and the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The Turkish official said Ankara had presented U.S. Vice President Joe Biden with “proof” the PYD is a terror group during his visit to Istanbul in January but admitted Washington has not accepted Ankara’s argument.
“We are trying to convince the Americans,” said the official, adding that PYD is “not supporting the territorial integrity of Syria.”
Turkish tanks have struck PYD Kurdish militia targets in Syria over the past few days, creating a rift between Ankara and Washington.