Date
25 March 2017
Turkish soldiers position an anti-aircraft gun at Incirlik airbase in the southern city of Adana. Turkey and the US are planning a major push against jihadist fighters on the Turkish border. Photo: Reuters
Turkish soldiers position an anti-aircraft gun at Incirlik airbase in the southern city of Adana. Turkey and the US are planning a major push against jihadist fighters on the Turkish border. Photo: Reuters

US, Turkey planning air cover for Syrian rebels

Turkey and the United States are planning air cover for Syrian rebels and a joint sweep against Islamic State fighters along the Turkish border.

The move is aimed at bolstering the NATO member’s security, possibly providing a safe haven for civilians, according to Reuters.

Turkey, long a reluctant member of the US-led coalition against Islamic State, last week made a dramatic turnaround by granting the alliance access to its air bases and bombarding targets in Syria linked to the jihadist movement.

Struggling with more than 1.8 million Syrian refugees, Turkey has been campaigning for a “no-fly zone” in northern Syria to keep Islamic State and Kurdish militants from its border and help stem the tide of displaced civilians trying to cross.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the two allies saw eye to eye on the need to provide air cover for moderate Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State.

“What we have now is air coverage to clear a region from Daesh [Islamic State] and support the moderate opposition so they can gain control of that region,” Davutoglu told Turkey’s ATV in an interview broadcast live.

“We do not want to see Daesh on Turkey’s borders.”

In Washington, US officials said discussions were ongoing about the size and scope of a zone along the border that would be cleared of Islamic State fighters and allow moderate Syrian rebels to operate freely.

US officials ruled out the joint imposition of a formal no-fly zone and said the plan was not aimed at creating a “safe zone” for Syrian refugees.

“The purpose of the operation is not to create a safe zone into which Syrian refugees will go,” a senior Obama administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They might go, but that’s not the purpose of the operation. The purpose of the operation is to clear the border and close the border to Daesh,” the official said.

NATO will hold an emergency meeting to discuss security on Tuesday at Turkey’s request. Ankara is expected to brief its allies on the measures it is taking but did not request any air or troop support during preparations for the meeting, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.

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