SHAFAQNA – The American-led coalition against Islamic State (Isis) received a boost last night when Turkey agreed to let foreign forces use its soil and paved the way for its own operations against the group. MPs voted overwhelmingly to support a motion bringing to an end weeks of uncertainty for the West in which the Nato member had sat on the sidelines. The motion passed last night allows Turkish forces to deploy to Iraq and Syria “for cross-border operations and interventions”. It also allows for foreign troops in Turkey “for the same purposes”.It amounts to a turnaround by the government of President Erdogan, who shied away from joining the military coalition against Isis last month, citing the plight of 46 Turkish hostages held by the jihadists.
After securing the release of those detainees two weeks ago amid reports of a prisoner swap, Mr Erdogan hardened his rhetoric against the group. “We will fight effectively against both [Isis] and all other terrorist organisations within the region; this will always be our priority,” he said.
Turkey also wants to establish a safe zone in Syria to stem the flow of refugees and protect the tomb of Suleyman Shah on Syrian territory. This move faces opposition from the US, which fears it would require the imposition of an expensive no-fly zone and possible air battles against President Assad’s forces.
The Turkish plan gives western forces permission to train Syrian opposition fighters near its border with Syria. It does not, however, allow foreign aircraft to launch airstrikes against Isis using Incirlik air base — they would be allowed to use it only for logistical support and humanitarian aid.
A Turkish government official said that this policy might be reviewed in future. The vote came as Isis fighters advanced to the edge of the Kurdish-Syrian city of Kobani, despite opposition from Syrian Kurdish forces, bolstered by Kurds from Turkey and Iraq, and US airstrikes.
American warplanes unleashed strikes overnight against the advancing jihadists after Kurdish fighters were forced to fall back when they came under heavy bombardment from Isis artillery. Isis was said to be two miles outside the town and video on the internet appeared to show jihadists inside the city.
The conquest of Kobani would be a prize for Isis, giving it control of a swathe of territory along the Turkish border, over which it brings supplies and fighters, including western recruits.
Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish nationalist PKK rebel group, piled pressure on Ankara to intervene to prevent Isis taking Kobani. The city is almost deserted after 90 per cent of its 300,000 inhabitants fled, many to Turkey.
Mr Ocalan said the seizure of the city would mark the end of the peace process Mr Erdogan pioneered in an effort to end the PKK’s 30-year insurgency. “If this massacre attempt achieves its goal, it will end the process,” he said. Mr Erdogan raised the issue of a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border with Joe Biden, the US vice-president, and in a phone call with President Obama last week, during which he urged Washington to establish a no-fly zone.
A National Security Council spokeswoman said the US was not considering it, and Syrian Kurds are also opposed to such a move.
There were signs of an Isis fightback against Iraqi security forces in western Iraq yesterday after they lost ground in the north of the country. Isis suicide bombers and gunmen stormed two security bases in Heet and Ramadi, two enclaves of the jihadist-dominated Anbar province still under government control. At least 20 Iraqi soldiers and seven policemen were killed when a police headquarters and an army base were overrun.
Iraq’s army has suffered setbacks in Anbar, where several military bases have been overrun in Isis attacks using suicide bombers. Isis claims to have killed at least 300 soldiers when it overran Camp Saqlawiyah, close to Fallujah, seizing vehicles and weapons. Another 240 Iraqi soldiers trapped in a base in Albu Aitha, east of Baghdad, are running out of supplies.
Iraqi aircraft dropped leaflets over Mosul yesterday, warning civilians to evacuate homes near Isis positions, barracks and weapons stores before planned airstrikes on the city, which fell to the jihadists in June.
Yesterday, the US Navy reported its first casualty. A US Marine who ejected from a plane, the MV-22 Osprey, over the Persian Gulf on Wednesday was presumed “lost at sea”. The aircraft had lost power after taking off from USS Makin Island.
Meanwhile, Syrian Kurdish commanders confirmed yesterday that they had been joined by an American citizen who came to help in the battle against Isis. They identified him as Jordan Matson, 28, from Racine, Wisconsin. Leading article, page 30