SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Turkey pledged to open its military bases to coalition troops and help train Syrian rebels as Pentagon leaders prepare to host defense ministers from 20 nations this week to plot strategy against Islamic State forces.
After weeks of hesitation and complaints it wasn’t doing enough to combat Islamic State extremists, Turkey agreed to let the U.S. and allies train moderate Syrian rebels on its soil and make use of its bases, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said yesterday.
The agreement is a significant expansion of Turkish cooperation in the fight against Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq and is gaining territory along the Turkish border.
While Turkey has previously pledged to join the campaign, it hadn’t said what it would be willing to contribute militarily. The NATO member had ruled out sending ground troops into Syria unless the U.S. broadened the campaign to target the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey is now willing to join Saudi Arabia in offering territory to be used to train moderate Syrian rebels who could fight Islamic State on the ground in Syria, Rice said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.
“That is a new commitment,” Rice said of Turkey’s pledge.
The move to help train moderate Syrian opposition forces bolsters Turkey’s twin objectives of weakening Islamic State fighters while trying to oust the Assad regime.
The Obama administration, while saying Assad must go, has stopped short of taking any military action against the Syrian regime and has limited its airstrikes to Islamic State targets. The U.S. has ruled out sending its own ground troops into Syria and Iraq.
Rice also said Turkish bases could be used by “the coalition forces — American and otherwise — to engage in activities inside of Iraq and Syria.”
Such a move would give U.S. aircraft close access to targets in neighboring Syria, such as the Kurdish town of Kobani, where Islamic State is making gains. The U.S. has an air base near Incirlik, Turkey.
“That’s a new commitment and one that we very much welcome,” Rice said.
The Pentagon, taking into consideration political sensitivities of Arab allies, hasn’t disclosed which air bases it uses in the region to conduct strikes in Syria and Iraq.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said U.S. military officials will be in Turkey this week to review the plan for training and equipping Syrian rebels.
The officials will be “working with the Turkish general’s staff and appropriate leaders, going through the specifics of Turkey’s commitments to help the coalition specifically train and equip,” Hagel said at a press conference in Chile, according to a transcript distributed yesterday.
Hagel also spoke with Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz yesterday and thanked him “for Turkey’s willingness to contribute to coalition efforts, to include hosting and conducting training for Syrian opposition members,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, said in a statement.
The Obama administration is under pressure to take more aggressive military action as the airstrikes do little to keep Islamic State from seizing new territory.
“They’re winning and we’re not,” Senator John McCain said of Islamic State’s recent gains.
“There has to be a fundamental re-evaluation of what we’re doing because we are not — we are not degrading and ultimately destroying ISIS,” the Arizona Republican said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program, using an acronym for Islamic State.
McCain, who serves on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees in Congress, called for putting “American forward-air controllers and special forces on the ground supplying weapons” to Kurdish troops and Syrian rebels, while targeting both Islamic State and the Assad regime.
Rice rejected the notion that the administration’s strategy needs to be revised.
“We are not going to be in a ground war again in Iraq,” Rice said on NBC. “It’s not what is required by the circumstances we face. And even if one were to take that step, which the president has made clear we are not going to do, it wouldn’t be sustainable. We got to do this in a sustainable way.”
While Turkey has pressed the U.S. to establish a “buffer zone” and no-fly zone in Syria, Rice said there are no plans to do so.
“We don’t see it at this point as essential to the goal of degrading and ultimately destroying” Islamic State, she said.