SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)- Turkey on Monday denied statements by US officials that it had allowed the United States access to its air bases for bombing missions against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria.
A government official said there was no new agreement over the use by the United States of the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, which US air forces already use for logistical and humanitarian purposes.
“There is no new agreement with the United States about Incirlik,” the official, who asked not to be named, told AFP in Ankara.
“Negotiations are continuing” based on conditions Turkey had previously laid out such as a safe zone inside Syria backed up by a no-fly zone, the official added.
“There is no change in our position,” the official said.
Quoted on a visit to New York by the state-run Anatolia news agency, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: “No decision has been taken on Incirlik”.
A senior US defence official said Sunday that Turkey has granted the US forces access to its air bases, including Incirlik, for the bombing campaign against IS.
“Details of usage are still being worked out,” the US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Located in southern Turkey in Adana province a short distance from the Syrian border, Incirlik would be an ideal start point for US forces to launch air strikes against IS inside Syria.
With Kurdish fighters battling IS jihadists for the town of Kobane just a few kilometres from the Turkish border, Ankara is coming under intensifying pressure to increase its involvement.
‘Train and equip’
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel had also said Turkey had agreed on “hosting and conducting training for Syrian opposition members” in Turkey.
Cavusoglu confirmed that while there was no agreement between Ankara and Washington on the use of Incirlik, they were seeing eye-to-eye on training and equipping Syrian opposition forces.
“With the US, we are unanimous on some issues on the ‘equip and train project’. As a matter of fact, we have reached a consensus on these issues,” he said.
This would be in line with Turkey’s pressing for a ground operation by members of the moderate Syrian opposition to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
Without giving specific details, the Turkish official said Turkey welcomed such an idea, saying such actions needed to be carried out by Syrians themselves.
“An operation by Western powers would create a negative perception,” the official noted.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had in a speech earlier Monday clearly laid out what he described as Turkey’s four requirements for stepping up its help for the US-led coalition against IS.
These are a no-fly zone, a buffer zone inside Syria, training and equipping the moderate opposition, and a strategy for the removal of Assad.
Erdogan said saving Kobane could not be an end in itself and said there were “lots of other Kobanes” that had been overrun by jihadists in Syria and Iraq.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in interviews with Turkish media at the weekend that reconnaissance flights over Iraq were still being conducted from Incirlik.
But Turkey needed assurances that a no-fly zone and buffer zone would be established before it would allow a military campaign to be launched from there, he said.