Turkey Denies Deal with US on Anti-IS Strikes

Turkey on Monday denied it struck a deal with Washington allowing US forces to use Turkish air bases for bombing raids against Islamic State (IS) militants inside Syria but confirmed it had agreed to help train Syrian rebels.

Ankara has come under increasing Western pressure to step up assistance for the US-led coalition against IS, as Kurdish fighters battle the jihadists for the town of Kobane just a few kilometres from the Turkish border.

But the Turkish government vehemently denied statements by US officials it was allowing US forces to carry out bombing raids from the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey.

"We are holding intense negotiations with our allies. But there are not any new developments about Incirlik," Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters after a cabinet meeting in Ankara.

The US air force already uses the Incirlik base for logistical and humanitarian purposes but would need additional authorisation from Ankara to launch bombing raids.

"There is no new agreement with the United States about Incirlik," an official, who asked not to be named, told AFP earlier 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.

A senior US defence official said Sunday that Turkey had 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.

However in a barb at the US, Arinc said: "Different people can make different statements that go beyond their purpose or with the intention of satisfying their own public."

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.

- 'Train and equip' -

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel had also said Turkey had agreed on "hosting and conducting training for Syrian opposition members" in Turkey.

Arinc 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.

He said that Turkey had long been in favour of moves to train moderate Syrian rebels for a ground operation to oust President Bashar al-Assad as well as fight IS militants.

"The West acknowledged that we are right (about training the opposition). And negotiations are going on to find the best place to carry it out inside Turkey," said Arinc.

Those in training "have to be only Syrians" and it should not involve foreigners, he said.

"But the conditions or where it will take place have not been determined yet," he said.

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 a safe haven would be established before it would allow a military campaign to be launched from there, he said.

Source: AFP
Date: Oct 13, 2014

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