The U.S. said Turkey agreed to help train Syrian rebels and allow use of its military bases as part of the campaign against Islamic State, as Turkish officials cast doubt on the extent of the accord.
U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said yesterday that Turkey has made a “new commitment” in the fight against the jihadist group. Her comments followed U.S. efforts to persuade Turkey to play a bigger role in the fight against Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq and is gaining territory along the Turkish border.
It wasn’t immediately clear which bases would be involved. There’s no agreement to use Incirlik in southeast Turkey, a base for past U.S. operations, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. Turkey agreed to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels, while details such as where training will take place yet to be clarified, he told state television today. U.S. military officials are due in Turkey this week for further talks.
While Turkey has previously pledged to join the campaign, it hadn’t said what it would be willing to contribute militarily. The NATO member had ruled out sending ground troops into Syria unless the U.S. broadened the campaign to target the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey is now willing to join Saudi Arabia in offering territory to be used to train moderate rebels who could fight Islamic State on the ground in Syria, Rice said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “That is a new commitment,” she said.
The Obama administration, while saying Assad must go, has stopped short of taking any military action against his regime and has limited its airstrikes to Islamic State targets. The U.S. has ruled out sending its own troops into combat on the ground in Syria and Iraq.
Rice also said Turkish “facilities” could be used by “the coalition forces -- American and otherwise -- to engage in activities inside of Iraq and Syria.” She didn’t name any specific bases.
Such a move would give U.S. aircraft close access to targets in neighboring Syria, such as the Kurdish town of Kobani, where Islamic State is making gains.
“That’s a new commitment and one that we very much welcome,” Rice said.
Islamic State may capture Kobani within days if the U.S.- led coalition doesn’t step up airstrikes to help, Faysal Sariyildiz, a lawmaker in the Turkish parliament, said in an interview at the border with Syria yesterday.
The Pentagon, taking into consideration political sensitivities of Arab allies, hasn’t disclosed which air bases it uses in the region to conduct strikes in Syria and Iraq.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said U.S. military officials will be in Turkey this week to review the plan for training and equipping Syrian rebels.
The Obama administration is under pressure from domestic critics to take more aggressive military action as the airstrikes do little to keep Islamic State from seizing new territory.
While Turkey has pressed the U.S. to establish a “buffer zone” and no-fly zone in Syria, Rice said there are no plans to do so. “We don’t see it at this point as essential to the goal of degrading and ultimately destroying” Islamic State, she said.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will host more than 20 defense ministers from coalition countries tomorrow at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington to discuss the campaign against Islamic State. President Barack Obama is scheduled to stop by the meeting.