Security meeting shapes contours of possible operation against ISIS

AHMET TOPAL
ISTANBUL
Published 29.06.2015 20:00
Updated 29.06.2015 20:01
Chief of General Staff Necdet Özel (L), president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Chief of General Staff Necdet Özel (L), president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

A National Security Council meeting was held Monday attended by top political and military officials to discuss in detail every option before a possible incursion into Syria to prevent ISIS from entering Turkey

All eyes have turned to the National Security Council's (MGK) critical meeting that convened late yesterday to discuss the scope of military intervention in Syria, a possibility that emerged after the threat posed by both the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party's (PYD) People's Protection Units (YPG) on Turkey's doorstep alarmingly ramped up. Turkey has recently been discussing the possibility of an incursion into Syria aimed at pushing back Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants from its borders after intense security concerns. Proximity of the relentless violence caused by the YPG fighting ISIS has prompted Turkish officials to take strong measures in case of the penetration of its territory.

The recent suicide attacks conducted by ISIS in Kobani, a Syrian Kurdish border town currently controlled by the YPG, and the taking from ISIS another border town Tal Abyad by the Kurdish forces have fueled Ankara's fears that violence could extend to Turkey. To stem possible threat against its frontiers, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to prepare for an operation across the border if any threat approaches.

The rules of engagement regarding Syria have also been regulated accordingly for a cross-border operation against ISIS to give Turkish troops a freer hand to fire into Syria, which has disintegrated since the outbreak of civil war in 2011.

Two forms of military intervention were on the table during the MGK meeting attended by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the interim cabinet and military leaders. First option was the establishment of a safe zone in Jarablus. However, for the action to be put into effect, Turkey will act in accordance with coalition partners that will hopefully be fixed once Davutoğlu starts the negotiating process with parties to form a government. Through the diplomacy conducted with coalition forces, Turkey will check the pulse of the international community concerning the option before it is realized.

If Turkey does not get diplomatic support from its allies, then "plan B" will come into play, providing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with artillery backup. The Army, which has recently been considering the option, opened it to debate during the meeting where the risks posed by the plan were discussed. It was also questioned whether live arms and airstrikes by Turkey to repel ISIS to the south will be abused by the militants who Turkey fears might use civilians in the region as a shield.

The council also assessed whether in the case of a cross-border operation, Turkish jets could be damaged by the Syrian regime's air defense systems. A detailed analysis was made regarding the concern.

Davutoğlu said on Sunday that Turkey is ready to respond to "any contingency" in terms of its border security along the frontiers with Syria and Iraq.

"If we ever reach a conclusion that Turkey's borders are under any threat, our country is ready for any contingency and it has done everything necessary for that readiness," Davutoğlu said at an opening ceremony of an exhibition in Istanbul.

"It should be known that the Turkish Armed Forces, our nation and our security forces as a whole are vigilant to maintain the peaceful environment in our country and there will be no room for any neglect in this matter," he added.

Turkey's giving the go-ahead for an operation against ISIS has also prompted preparations by ISIS for self-defense.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Mahmud Hasan, a Syrian opposition forces commander, said that ISIS militants dug 4-meter holes around the villages they control near the Turkish border.

"They are taking precautions against any ground attack by Turkey. ISIS is trying to secure itself after the allegations that Turkey might conduct a military intervention in Syria became public," Hasan said.

"We as the Syrian opposition think that ISIS opens up a space for the separatist Kurds," Hasan said, adding that Turkey, as a friend of Syria, "must prevent the dirty project."

Ankara's concerns about instability in the region are not limited to ISIS. The YPG's driving out of ISIS from Tal Abyad also became a matter of unsettlement for Turkey. Tal Abyad lies between two Kurdish-controlled cantons, Kobani and Jazeera, so its capture is of strategic importance as it opens a supply route between the two spots, triggering Turkish fears that such bridging will ramp up Kurdish power in the region, ultimately pos

ing a threat to Turkish security.

Erdoğan previously said he was worried that the PYD and PKK were filling the vacuum left behind after driving ISIS back, and that it could "create a structure" near its borders that might threaten the country.

He said on Friday that Turkey will not allow the foundation of a new state in northern Syria.

"I emphasize Turkey's stance once again, we will not allow a state to be established in northern Syria." Erdoğan said. He also criticized allegations associating Turkey with terrorist groups amid renewed fighting between Kurdish forces and ISIS militants in the Syrian town of Kobani near the Turkish border.

"I am calling on those who have been tweeting 'Terrorist Turkey,' " he said, "How dare you define a country that has provided shelter for Kobani residents as a terrorist country."

The President noted Turkey supports the fight for freedom in Syria, but "never act in unison with terrorist groups."

"Nobody can associate Turkey with the Assad regime, a state terrorizing its people or with other terror groups," he added.

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