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Turkey, US plan border sweep for IS

By Agencies in Beirut, Lebanon and Brussels | China Daily | Updated: 2015-07-29 11:24

Success could create haven for refugees from Syria, but risks angering Kurdish forces

Turkey and the United States have agreed on the outlines of a plan to rout Islamic State militants from a strip of Syrian territory along the Turkish border - a plan that opens the possibility of a safe haven for tens of thousands of displaced Syrians but one that also sets up a potential conflict with US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces in the area.

The move further embroils Turkey, a key NATO ally, in Syria's civil war and catapults it into a front-line position in the global war against IS.

A senior Obama administration official said on Monday that US discussions with Turkey about an IS-free zone focused on a stretch still under IS control. The US has been conducting airstrikes there, which will accelerate now that the US can launch strikes from Turkish soil, the official said.

No agreement between Turkey and the US has yet been finalized, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

NATO held an emergency meeting at Turkey's request on Tuesday to discuss Turkey's campaign against Islamic State jihadists and Kurdish militants in Syria.

Turkey, the alliance's only Muslim member and one of its most powerful, called for consultations with its allies after a bloody attack it blamed on terrorists in the southern town of Suruc last week.

In Washington, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said any joint military efforts with Turkey would not include the imposition of a no-fly zone. The US has long rejected Turkish and other requests for a no-fly zone to halt Syrian government air raids, fearing it would draw US forces further into the civil war.

While details of the buffer-zone plan have yet to be announced, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara and Washington have no intention of sending ground troops into Syria but wanted to see Syria's moderate opposition forces replace IS near the Turkish border.

"Moderate forces like the Free Syrian Army will be strengthened; a structure will be created so that they can take control of areas freed from ISIL; air cover will be provided. It would be impossible for them to take control of the area without it," Davutoglu told Turkey's A Haber television, using an alternate acronym for Islamic State.

The discussions came amid a major tactical shift in Turkey's approach to IS. After months of reluctance, Turkish warplanes started striking militant targets in Syria last week, and Turkey allowed the US to launch its own strikes from the strategically located Incirlik Air Base.

Davutoglu said "NATO has a duty to protect" Turkey's border with Syria and Iraq, and that Ankara will seek the alliance's support for its actions in Brussels.

But a Turkish-driven campaign to push IS out of territory along the Turkish border is likely to complicate matters on the ground.

US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria, who have been the most successful in the war against IS, control most of the 910 km boundary and have warned Ankara against any military intervention in northern Syria.


 Turkey, US plan border sweep for IS

A Turkish flag (right) flies among others flags of NATO members during the North Atlantic Council following Turkey's request for Article 4 consultations, at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on Tuesday. Francois Lenoir / Reuters


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