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Erdogan Signals Turkey Prepared to Join Syria War If Asked

Updated on
  • Erdogan says Turkey shouldn't repeat mistake it made on Iraq
  • Rebels supported by Turkey are losing ground to Assad

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country shouldn’t repeat in Syria the same mistake it made when it turned down a U.S. request to join the coalition that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Gulf states, meanwhile, said they’d send ground troops into Syria, where military gains led to the breakoff of already troubled peace talks between the government and rebels.

“We don’t want to fall into the same mistake in Syria as in Iraq,” Erdogan said, recounting how Turkey’s parliament denied a U.S. request to use its territory for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “It’s important to see the horizon. What’s going on in Syria can only go on for so long. At some point it has to change,” he told journalists on the return flight from a tour of Latin America, according to Hurriyet newspaper.

Opposition forces supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia are losing more ground to the troops of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Hezbollah militants and Russian airstrikes. Turkey has repeatedly urged the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq to increase its support for moderate rebel groups seeking the ouster of Assad.

Talks Suspended

Asked if Turkey could manage some sudden development in Syria, Erdogan said: “You don’t talk about these things. When necessary, you do what’s needed. Right now our security forces are prepared for all possibilities.”

The United Nations last week suspended its long-awaited peace conference in Geneva until later this month, after Syrian forces launched a major offensive against rebels, edging closer to retake the city of Aleppo. The talks came after four months of Russian air strikes helped to reverse the tide of the war in favor of Assad’s military.

“What are you doing in Syria? You’re essentially an occupier,” Erdogan said, addressing Russian President Vladimir Putin, the daily reported.

Erdogan also criticized the U.S. for backing Syrian Kurdish fighters that Turkey classifies as terrorists. Last week Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama’s envoy for the international coalition against Islamic State, visited the Syrian town of Kobani, where Kurds fought back a siege by Islamic State near Turkey’s border last year.

“How can we trust you?” Erdogan said of McGurk’s visit. “Is your partner me, or is it those terrorists in Kobani?”

Join Coalition

With rebels losing ground, Gulf states said they would be prepared to send in ground troops as part of an international coalition battling Islamic State.

“A real campaign against Daesh has to include ground elements,” Anwar Gargash, U.A.E. minister of state for foreign affairs, said when asked if the emirates would send ground troops to fight Islamic State, using an Arabic acronym for the group.

“We’re not talking about thousands of troops, but we are talking about troops on the ground that will lead the way, that will train, that will support,” Gargash said at a news conference in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. American leadership of such an effort “is a prerequisite,” he added.

Ahmed Asseri, a spokesman for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting Yemen, said Saudis would also be willing to contribute ground troops as part of a wider campaign against Islamic State in Syria, Al-Arabiya television reported Friday.

(Adds Erdogan comment in fifth paragraph.)
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