Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that a "comprehensive battle" against ISIS will start soon after Turkey and the US agreed upon the use of the Incirlik Air Base located 100 km from the northwestern Syrian border, as well as Turkish airfields, by US-led coalition forces for air strikes against the group as part of a joint action plan in northern Syria.
According to Reuters, during a trip to Malaysia Cavusoglu said, "We’re seeing that manned and unmanned American planes are arriving and soon we will launch a comprehensive battle against ISIS all together."
Turkey and the US-led anti-ISIS coalition forces are planning to create an ISIS-free zone in northern Syria where the group already controls an area from Jarablus to Marea along the Turkish border. The zone is also situated between the two Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) controlled "cantons" of Kobani and Afrin.
Reports previously stated that ISIS recently attacked the area between Azez and Marea in northwestern Syria - which is controlled by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) - after the group lost Tal Abyad to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the militant wing of the PYD.
Turkey and the US-led coalition forces aim to establish the ISIS-free zone in a 110-kilometer long area along the Syrian border between Azez and Jarablus which will go about 60 kilometers deep into Syrian territory, reaching the province of Aleppo.
Cavusoglu has previously stated that Turkey and its allies have decided to eliminate ISIS from the areas it controls with the intention of creating "safe zones" for civilians in northern Syria and Iraq.
Turkey has consistently advocated the plan to establish safe areas and no-fly-zones in Syria. Foreign Minister Cavusoglu has indicated that refugees in Turkey and Syria's other neighbouring countries could be resettled in the proposed "safe" zones cleared of ISIS militants.
As part of the plan FSA forces will be deployed in the areas cleared of ISIS by the coalition forces, which will also serve to keep the expansion of the PYD in check, according to an August 3 Wall Street Journal article.
However, Turkey's Anadolu Agency reported that the US government has denied American media reports of an agreement between Washington and Ankara to keep YPG forces out of the ISIS-free zone in northern Syria, citing an anonymous senior US administration official.
US and Turkish media accounts have often indicated Turkey and the US apparently still have some differences of opinion when it comes to what kind of role the PYD should play in northern Syria. Turkey is concerned over the PYD’s activities in northern Syria along the Turkish border as well as with the actions of ISIS and the Assad regime.
The PYD is considered by Turkey to be the Syrian affiliate of the outlawed PKK, which is recognised as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and EU.
However, the US-led coalition is generally supportive of the PYD’s activities against ISIS, which has been targeted by coalition air strikes in coordination with PYD advances.
Turkey would consider any incursion to the west of the Euphrates river in northern Syria along the Turkish border by the PYD, or any attack north of Idlib by Syrian regime forces, as a violation of a "red line" set during the country's most recent National Security Council meeting in late June.
The August 3 WSJ article suggests the US government recognises Turkey’s "red line." However, the newspaper has also reported YPG leaders as saying that they have "made no commitment not to cross the Euphrates."
A high-ranking PYD representative, Idres Nassan, said, "The initial plan is to move to liberate the western side of the Euphrates once the areas to the east have been cleared of ISIS." He also said that the group will keep working in coordination with its local and international allies.
Turkey’s "red line" against the PYD and the group’s desire to move further west of the river "puts more pressure on the US and Turkey to find an alternative capable of filling the void," in the region, the WSJ report stated.
With the latest Incirlik deal, Turkey and US it appears have decided to overcome their differences and fill that void.
But there are still various challenges ahead, as recent troubles faced by members of the US-backed "Division 30" in northern Syria indicate.
The Al Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front allegedly abducted some Syrian fighters of "Division 30" along with their Turkmen leader, Nadim al-Hasan, inside Syrian territory, opposition sources and an activist group told Reuters recently.
US defence officials have partly confirmed the reports.
A US-Turkish "train-equip" programme in mid-July sent a group of 54 fighters from Syrian opposition groups, who received US military training for 74 days in Turkey, back to Syria to fight against ISIS.
The US military launched the train-equip program in May. It aimed to train up to 5,400 fighters a year to combat ISIS, but after many candidates were deemed ineligible and others dropped out US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter stated that it has fallen far behind schedule.