Turkey, Saudi Arabia not planning Syria ground incursion

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu dismisses speculation that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are planning joint ground incursion into Syria

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu answers a question during an interview with Reuters in Ankara, Turkey, February 16, 2016.

A military ground operation in Syria by Turkey and Saudi Arabia is not on the agenda and any such move would need to involve all countries in the US-led coalition against the DAESH terrorist group, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference in Ankara on Monday.

His comments dismisses weeks of speculation that the two regional powerhouses may be planning a joint ground incursion into Syria.

Earlier this month, Cavusoglu told journalists following an International Syria Support Group meeting in Munich that Turkey may partake in a ground operation with Saudi Arabia in order to fight against DAESH, stating that both countries saw it as necessary.

It was also declared this month that Saudi jets were deployed at the Incirlik Air Base in southeastern Turkey in order to "intensify" its operations against DAESH, according to senior Saudi defence official Brigadier General Ahmed al Assiri, who was quoted by Al Arabiya television.

Assiri said the decision to deploy an unspecified number of jets to Turkey followed a meeting in Brussels of US-led anti-DAESH coalition members who decided to step up their fight against the terrorist group in Syria and Iraq.

He stressed that the Saudis had made their decision in coordination with the coalition and a ground operation was being planned.

Cavusoglu also stated last week that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and some European allies want a ground operation in Syria, but there is no consensus in the coalition and a strategy for such an incursion has not been seriously debated.

Turkish Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz likewise told the state-run Anadolu Agency that Turkey was not considering to deploy troops into Syria.

Yilmaz said on Sunday that increased security efforts to protect the Turkish border against any threat from Syria would be completed by the end of 2016.

The Turkish military has been shelling YPG militants on the Syrian side of the border since last week in a move to halt their advance towards the town of Azaz, a Syrian opposition stronghold in northern Aleppo which used to serve as a vital supply route to forces fighting against Bashar al Assad’s regime before the regime resumed an offensive to recapture the region with the help of Russian air strikes.

The YPG is the armed wing of the PYD, the Syrian affiliate of the PKK - a Marxist-Leninist group listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU, the US and NATO - which seeks to impose its ideology in predominantly Kurdish areas in the region.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu previously said that Turkey will not allow Azaz to fall under the control of PYD, warning its forces to withdraw from the Syrian Menagh Air Base.

The Turkish government has been alarmed by both DAESH moves near the Syrian towns of Azaz and Marea as well as the enlargement of the northern enclaves under the control of the PYD along its long border with Syria.

Cavusoglu added that Russian air strikes were the biggest obstacle to achieving a ceasefire in Syria. He said the Syrian opposition, which said on Saturday it had agreed to the "possibility" of a temporary truce, would meet in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Last week, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan said Turkey wants a secure strip of territory 10 km (6.2 miles) deep on the Syrian side of its border, including the town of Azaz, to prevent attempts to "change the demographic structure" of the area.

Turkey, home to nearly 2.7 million Syrian refugees, has long pushed for the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria to protect displaced civilians, avoiding the need to bring them into Turkey.

In Syria, a conflict has been raging since early 2011 and has led to the deaths of more than 250,000 people and driven more than 10 million from their homes, according to the UN.

TRTWorld and agencies