Turkey to eye alternatives if F-35s not acquired

Turkey to eye alternatives if F-35s not acquired

Turkey to eye alternatives if F-35s not acquired

Turkish defense minister on Nov. 23 said that Ankara will look for alternatives if it does not acquire F-35 fighter jets.

"All should be aware that Turkey will have to look for alternatives if F-35s [fighter jets] cannot be acquired for any reason," Hulusi Akar said at an interview with Al Jazeera.

Akar underlined the Russian S-400 missile defense systems Turkey has purchased would not be integrated into the country's defense system. Instead, the S-400s will be a part of a "stand-alone system," according to the minister.

"That's what we have been saying since the beginning [of the dispute with the U.S.]. [S-400s] will definitely be a 'stand-alone' system. We are not going to integrate this with the NATO systems in any way. It will operate independently," he said.

Emphasizing that Turkey has fulfilled its responsibilities as a partner country of the F-35 program, Akar said the country's allies -- particularly the U.S. -- should do their part as well.

Akar also conveyed that Turkey's previous efforts to procure the U.S.-made Patriot defense systems had been rejected.

Tensions rose between Ankara and Washington when the former decided the acquire the S-400s. While U.S. says the Russian system poses a threat to its F-35 fighter jets, Turkey has repeatedly said the procurement will not be a problem for the program.

Washington has warned that Ankara will face sanctions over its purchase of the S-400s, and has suspended Turkey from the F-35 program, in which it was a customer and manufacturer.

It has yet to impose any sanctions on Turkey, which began receiving the Russian systems in July.

Developments in Syria

Akar also said the joint Turkish-Russian patrols in northern Syria were useful in monitoring developments in the area, where Turkey launched an anti-terror operation to clear the area of terrorists and ensure the safe return of Syrian refugees.

"I believe these patrols will be much more beneficial and successful in the coming days," he added.

Noting that Ankara and Moscow had agreed on the withdrawal of the PKK/YPG terror organization and affiliated groups from the region, Akar stressed that PKK/YPG terrorists were still present in the area and that they had harassed Turkish troops in recent days.

Turkey respects Syrian territorial integrity

Akar highlighted that Turkey, since the eruption of civil war in Syria in 2011, has always respected Syrian political and territorial integrity.

“We don't have intentions on anyone's territory. Our sole wish and goal is the security of our country and nation," he said, adding that the PKK/YPG and ISIL terror groups were Turkey’s main concerns.

Akar said PKK/YPG terrorists have carried out at least 1,200 mortar and rocket attacks in recent days on people living east of the Euphrates River.

He added that a total of 22 Turkish people were killed and 200 others wounded following the terror group's attack on Turkish border cities following the start of Operation Peace Spring.

He went on to say that Turkey would never target civilians in its operation and that it had taken measures not to harm civilians, the environment and historical and religious buildings.

Assad regime tries to violate deals in Idlib

When asked about recent developments in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, Akar said the Bashar al-Assad regime did not respect an ongoing ceasefire and violated agreements.

"…[Assad regime] tried hard to violate the truce at every opportunity. Of course, one can say that they also received some help from the Russians," Akar said.

"Since May 6, about 1,100-1,200 Syrians lost their lives and the majority of them were civilians. Also, we know that 600,000 people abandoned their homes. Hence, it's a serious humanitarian tragedy," he added.

Turkey on Oct. 9 launched Operation Peace Spring, to eliminate the terrorist PKK/YPG from northern Syria east of the Euphrates River in order to secure Turkey’s borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees, and ensure Syria’s territorial integrity. 

Ankara wants PKK/YPG terrorists to withdraw from the region so that a safe zone can be created to pave the way for the safe return of some two million refugees.

The U.S.-backed SDF, a group dominated by the YPG, has been controlling some 28 percent of the Syrian territories, including the most of the 911-kilometer-long Syria-Turkey border.

Turkey deems the YPG the Syrian offshoot of the illegal PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization also by the United States and the EU.