TURKEY ruled out a ground operation against Islamic State in neighbouring Syria yesterday after Britain joined calls for the country to fight militants threatening a key border town.
Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that it was “unrealistic” to expect his country to launch a ground war against the IS group on its own.
Mr Cavusoglu spoke at a news conference in Ankara with visiting Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg, who said that there is no easy solution for the town of Kobani, just inside Syria.
He said that Turkey is prepared to take on a bigger role once a deal is reached with the US-led coalition. “Turkey will not hold back from carrying out its role,” he said.
Turkish officials have said that, while they do not want Kobani to fall, they will not take on a greater role until the coalition outlines a broader strategy that also weakens Syrian president Bashar Assad, who at the moment is best positioned to benefit from any rollback of the Islamic State group.
Earlier, amid fears that the lightly armed Kurdish defenders in Kobani could be overrun by IS fighters, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon urged the government Turkey to become more involved.
“Turkey certainly could help. It is a matter for Turkey, but other allies in the region have been helping,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“This is a situation that can only be resolved, not just by America and Britain, but by the region itself so we’d certainly like to see Turkey more involved but in the end it is a decision for their government.”
There has been growing frustration among members of the US-led coalition being assembled against IS at the reluctance of Turkey to intervene, despite having forces on the border.
Mr Fallon warned that if IS –also referred to as Isil (Islamic State in Syria and the Levant) – was not stopped, it would have severe consequences for the entire region.
“Clearly every country in the region has got to see now what it can do to contribute to dealing with Isil otherwise we will have Iraq falling apart and Syria falling apart and that is a danger to the entire region,” he said.
With a US envoy – retired general John Allen – in Turkey for talks with the government of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr Fallon indicated they could look favourably at Turkish calls for the establishment of a “buffer zone” along the border supported by a no-fly zone.
“It is something certainly that we will look at. We have had successful no-fly zones in the past, we have the air power to police it,” he said.
Following last month’s emergency Commons vote, Britain is currently conducting air strikes against IS forces in Iraq.
But while Mr Fallon acknowledged that IS had to be defeated in both Iraq and Syria, ministers did not believe that Parliament was yet ready to authorise the extension of military action into Syria.
“We don’t have authority from Parliament to operate in Syria at the moment. Our judgment at the moment is that Parliament wouldn’t give us that authority,” he said.
The US-led coalition ramped up its aerial bombardment of IS positions in Kobani yesterday as the extremist group battled street by street with Kurdish forces.
The US Central Command said five airstrikes south of Kobani since Wednesday had destroyed an IS building and two vehicles, and damaged a training camp. The strikes also struck two groups of IS fighters, it said.
“Indications are that Kurdish militia there continue to control most of the city and are holding out against Isil,” it said,.
But despite the airstrikes overnight and into the morning, the IS fighters managed to capture a police station in the east of the town, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The station was later struck by coalition jets.