Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that his country cannot stay out of the international coalition fighting the “Islamic State” (IS), AFP reported.
Turkey has for months frustrated the West with its cautious position against IS, but there appears to have been a sea change in its policy following Erdogan’s trip last week to the United States, the report noted.
“We will hold discussions with our relevant institutions this week. We will definitely be where we need to be,” Erdogan said in a keynote address to a World Economic Forum meeting in Istanbul.
“We cannot stay out of this,” he added.
IS terrorists have now advanced in Syria to just a few kilometers from Turkey, sending tens of thousands of people fleeing across the border.
Turkey has so far taken in over 160,000 refugees who fled the IS assault around the town of Ain al-Arab, but Erdogan said it would be better if they could live safely in their own country.
He also reaffirmed his call for a buffer zone and no-fly zone within Syria to protect Turkey’s borders and the refugees. He also indicated ground forces could be needed.
“It is not possible only from the air, there is also a ground dimension,” he said, according to AFP.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced on Sunday that the government would send motions requesting extended mandates for military action in Iraq and Syria on Monday.
In a hugely rare intervention, Turkey’s top general, Necdet Ozel, will speak to the cabinet on Tuesday, Davutoglu added. Parliament will then debate the mandates on Thursday, paving the way for military action, although what that will involve is still not clear.
U.S. and allied forces from Arab states have been bombing IS positions in Syria since last week, after the U.S. expanded its air campaign against the terrorist group; until then the operation had been focused on blunting the Islamists’ advances in only Iraq.
Erdogan, who has long pressed for the ouster of Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad, indicated that he did not think military action would be enough to thwart IS and long-term solutions were needed to solve political problems in Syria and Iraq.
“Dropping bombs from the air only brings a temporary solution,” he said, adding that coordinated action needs to be taken against IS in both Syria and Iraq, attacking Britain for only planning strikes on targets inside Iraq.
“Instead of handling it this way, we should send our Syrian brothers to their own country through a safe zone,” Erdogan said, according to AFP.
Ankara has justified its low-key role in the fight against IS by saying its hands were tied by concerns over the fate of dozens of Turkish hostages abducted by IS in Iraq.
These hostages were freed last weekend, prompting what Erdogan has acknowledged as a major change in Turkish policy.
While airstrikes in Iraq – coupled with a ground coalition made up of Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Iranian-backed Shia militias and the Iraqi army – have succeeded in slowing down and even halting IS’s advances there, airstrikes in Syria appear to have been ineffective thus far.
Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) are fighting tooth-and-nail to keep IS from seizing the Kurdish town of Kobane, which sits on the Syrian-Turkish border. Coalition airstrikes in Syria have targeted both IS’s de facto capital of Raqqa, as well as the IS front lines with the YPG, but those latter strikes appear to have had no noticeable effect on the battle, with IS now moving to within just three miles of the town.
Kurdish leaders have warned of a renewed threat of genocide should IS gain control of Kobane.