ISIL attacks on Turkish border amid more US build-up at İncirlik base
ADANA / WASHINGTON
Fighters from an alliance of insurgents known as the "Army of Fatah" (Islamic Conquest) carry their weapons as they stand along a street in the village of al-Ziyara, after they took control of it from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Hama province, Syria August 10, 2015. REUTERS/Ammar AbdullahThe Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has launched a new offensive against Syrian rebels north of Aleppo, gaining ground near the Turkish-Syrian border, as the United States beefs up its military presence at a Turkish base ahead of large operations against the jihadist group.
Simultaneously, the U.S. has repeated that it is not interested in any action that will alter the territorial integrity of Syria, as another official said his country was finalizing the technical details for Turkey’s full inclusion in the anti-ISIL coalition’s operations.
Dozens of combatants were reportedly killed on both the ISIL and Syrian opposition sides during fighting in and around the town of Marea on Aug. 11, 20 kilometers south of the border with Turkey, where ISIL suicide attackers detonated four car bombs overnight.
The attack on Marea followed the capture of a nearby rebel-held village, Umm Hosh, by ISIL fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a rebel commander said.
The rebel commander said it was the heaviest ISIL attack in the area in several months.
“There is fierce fighting,” he added, declining to be identified for security reasons. “The situation in northern Aleppo is bad.”
The observatory, a U.K.-based group that reports on the war using sources on the ground, said at least 25 rebels and eight ISIL fighters were killed in Marea.
Late last month, the United States and Turkey announced their intention to provide air cover for rebels and jointly sweep ISIL from a strip of land near the border.
The envisioned buffer would deny ISIL its last remaining access to the frontier with Turkey after a string of defeats by the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) drove it from border positions further east.
In a statement dated Aug. 11, ISIL said its fighters had attacked two buildings in Marea and killed nearly 50 members of an “apostate” militia that opposes it.
The number of U.S. cargo craft that touched down on the tarmac of the İncirlik base, which is set to become the center for operations against ISIL, reached six on Aug. 10.
The U.S. European Command said in a statement Aug. 10 that the U.S. Air Force deployed a “small detachment” of six F-16 jets, support equipment and about 300 personnel to the base.
The detachment is part of the 31st Fighter Wing based at Aviano Air Base in Italy, it said.
Earlier this month, U.S. armed drones taking off from İncirlik struck ISIL positions, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoğlu said an “extensive” fight against the extremists would soon begin.
The main aim of the international coalition forces is fighting against ISIL in Syria rather than “changing the territorial integrity” of the country, the U.S. State Department has stated, striking a slightly different note than Ankara.
“Everybody is focused on the ISIL threat inside Syria, and Turkey has itself said that is where the locus of its energy will be applied. We continue to have conversations with them about how best to bolster security in the region and how to achieve a common objective. We’ve also been very clear that we’re not interested in doing anything that’s going to change the territorial integrity of Syria,” said Spokesperson John Kirby, speaking at the State Department’s daily press meeting on Aug. 10.
“There’s no support from the coalition to do anything to change the territorial integrity of Syria. We’ve made that clear,” he added.
Kirby also touched on the recent outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attacks targeting Turkish security forces, reiterating Washington’s stance on Turkey’s right to self-defense and the necessity of a political solution.
“We’ve talked about this before, recognizing that Turkey has a right to defend itself against terrorist attacks. I would add that we continue to call for the PKK to cease their attacks, to return to a political process here. We’ve made it clear that our expectation is that Turkey is going to take the necessary steps to prevent any civilian casualties and to act in accordance with international humanitarian law,” he said.
Separately, Turkey is expressing a “firm commitment” to participating in the U.S.-led coalition’s anti-ISIL efforts, the Pentagon said Aug. 10.
“The U.S. and Turkey are finalizing technical details for Turkey’s full inclusion in these coalition operations,” Pentagon spokesman Maj. James Brindle said in a statement to Anadolu Agency.
“Until these details are finalized, the U.S. has requested Turkey not to undertake independent counter-ISIL strikes in Syria, to ensure safe air operations for the coalition in dense airspace. Turkey agreed,” Brindle said.
Meanwhile, Russia and Saudi Arabia failed in talks on Aug. 11 to overcome their differences on the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a central dispute in Syria’s civil war that shows no sign of abating despite renewed diplomacy.
Russia is pushing for a coalition to fight ISIL insurgents – who have seized swathes of northern and eastern Syria – that would involve al-Assad, a long-time ally of Moscow. But, speaking after talks in Moscow, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir reiterated Riyadh’s stance that al-Assad must go.
“A key reason behind the emergence of Islamic State was the actions of al-Assad who directed his arms at his nation, not Islamic State,” Jubeir told a news conference after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“Al-Assad is part of the problem, not part of the solution to the Syrian crisis... There is no place for al-Assad in the future of Syria,” he said.
“The talks are about... coordinating all those who are already fighting terrorists so that they put their main focus on fighting terrorism and leave for later settling scores between themselves,” Lavrov said in describing Russia’s proposal.
“More coordinated efforts on the ground would help reach the goal,” he said, adding that this covered the Iraqi and Syrian armies, Kurdish forces and some armed Syrian opposition groups.