Obama’s Assad remarks as Turkey joins anti-ISIL strikes
Turkish jets carried out their first air strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) targets in Syria in the early hours of July 24, since the beginning of the civil war there.
That was after an ISIL suspect suicide bomber killed 32 including himself in the other border town of Suruç on July 20 and a group of ISIL militants opened fire from Syrian soil at a Turkish border patrol near Kilis, killing a non-commissioned officer and wounding four soldiers on July 23.
The decision to hit ISIL targets in Syrian territory with F-16 fighters was made during a security meeting chaired by PM Davutoğlu on the evening of July 23 in Ankara. Three Turkish jets took off from Diyarbakır air base and fired four guided missiles against three ISIL targets in Syria, between 3:40 and 3:53 a.m. without violating the Syrian air space, the statement said.
Turkish officials admit this as a new phase of fight against ISIL called “pre-emptive defense,” which boldly means that Turkish forces will no longer wait for an attack to retaliate but hit when they have the strong intelligence of a preparation for an attack in Turkey or along the border areas. The ISIL operation is an example for that. Official statements highlighted the intelligence about ISIL gathering heavy weaponry and militants for the last few days which were destroyed by F-16s near to Turkish border.
But Davutoğlu said on July 24 that his directives to security forces were not only valid against the ISIL, but also against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) and “all other terrorist organizations.”
In an unprecedented move, as Turkish planes took off from Diyarbakır, simultaneous police operations were carried out in 16 Turkish cities against suspected members of those three organizations where more than 250 were taken under custody.
In a parallel move, Turkish government is set to open İncirlik and probably Diyarbakır air bases for war planes of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL. A member of the coalition, Turkey has turned down these demands on the basis that the coalition must give equal importance to the toppling of Bashar al-Assad of Syria, equal to the fight against ISIL. Any move against the Syrian regime was not possible because of Russian and Chinese vetoes in the U.N. Security Council and also strong objection by Iran, as main supporter of the Syrian regime.
But like the shift in Turkish attitude towards ISIL in Syria, it seems there is a change in the attitude of the international community on the future of Syria and Assad.
Following a telephone conversation with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan a day before, U.S. President Barack Obama told the BBC on July 23 that there were two aspects of a strategy against ISIL. The first was to stop the foreign terrorist fighters’ traffic in and out of Syria and “shrink” their operational environment mainly with Turkish and Jordanian cooperation.
The second was interesting: “Pushing Assad, the Russians, the Iranians recognize that there’s going to be a political transition, before Syria pulls the entire region into what could be even a longer and bloodier conflict.”
According to diplomatic sources talking on condition of anonymity, there is a U.S. Plan under way for some months to send Assad and his family outside the country, keeping the regime without letting further power vacuum as to let the radical groups to take over. The sources also say that the issue has been opened up to Iranians late may during the nuclear talks in Geneva but a main problem being neither Russia, nor Iran would like to get Assad.
But Obama’s statement to the BBC shows that attempts to find a solution to Syrian civil war without Assad and family are still there, which also shows that the whole Syrian situation might have entered in a new phase with Turkey joining anti-ISIL strikes.