Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has given the clearest sign yet of Turkey’s readiness to join a possible ground operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). “Related countries are now planning a ground operation,” Erdoğan said, ‘Turkish daily ‘Hurriyet’ reports.
The Turkish Parliament will hold a vote on 2nd October, on a new motion to expand the scope of motions authorising the army to conduct cross-border operations into Iraq and Syria.
“We will protect our borders ourselves,” he added.
Speaking to journalists on board his jet returning to Turkey after participating in the UN General assembly in New York, Erdoğan made these key points:
“Turkey has been continuously blamed [for the foreign fighters in Syria]. However, everybody there [in the U.N.] admitted that, France, for instance, said some 1,000 of its citizens went to [Syria via Turkey]. Similarly, England said some 600 of its citizens are there, while other European countries, including Germany, noted foreign fighters went there. And it is understood that these people travel by disguising themselves as tourists and get armed once they arrived in the region.
After all the studies [in the anti-ISIL coalition] we’ve come to a point of determination. President [Barack] Obama said the number of countries that support our initiative [against ISIL] has reached to 104. I believe that this number is already even bigger now and will get bigger.
You know that a motion about this issue will come to Parliament on Oct. 2. I think we need to take the necessary steps after the approval of the motion. After all, 140,000 Syrian Kurds and around 40,000 Yazidis have entered Turkey, pushing the total number of refugees in our country to 1.5 million. This is a very high potential and I don’t know how much we can absorb it in the region.
There are three issues that we insistently emphasize: 1) The declaration of a no-fly zone 2) The declaration of a safe zone 3) Training and equipment [for the Syrian rebels]. I believe that an agreement will be reached [between coalition partners] on these issues. The talks are ongoing.
As a NATO country, we can discuss any kind of step, as well as issues like ‘who will conduct the air [operations]’ and ‘who will conduct the ground [operations].’ Related countries are also meeting each other for the planning of these issues. What is important is the moment when the button is pushed.
The United States has asserted its position due to certain sensibilities in Iraq and conducted air strikes particularly in the region where several hydropower plants are. These strikes were appropriate. While air strikes continued, we sent all kinds of humanitarian aid to every group in northern Iraq, including Turkmens, Arabs, Yazidis, and the Peshmerga. As such, [the ISIL offensive] was repelled.
If the U.S. had not conducted those operations, northern Iraq [the Kurdistan Regional Government, KRG] would be gone now. At least, those air strikes kept the ISIL from capturing the hydropower plants. And with the latest strikes, the U.S. has also stopped them from capturing Kobane [a Kurdish town near Syria’s border with Turkey].
(Will Turkey establish a safe zone in northern Syria by itself?) It should be done with all of the key actors in the region, by talking to all of them, because the international community should see our rightfulness. This is not only Turkey’s problem. It’s about 1.5 million people who will return to their country. One of the negotiated chapters is their return. Maybe new cities will be formed for them [in Syria].
(On how to conduct a ground operation) The related countries and units are already studying this topic: the distribution of roles, etc. are being negotiated. After the Jeddah meetings, now the U.S. and some Arab countries are conducting joint air strikes. These strikes have made things easier for the Free Syrian Army [FSA]. The ground operation is currently being conducted by the FSA, but the next phase will be different.
(Who will enforce and control the safe zone?) The coalition. The coordination to do it, etc. are all in the workings now. In the U.N. Security Council, we of course discussed the ISIL. Russia and China agreed with us. None of them said no.
You can’t destroy a terrorist organisation with air strikes. The integral force is the ground force. […] Of course, I’m not a soldier, but the air is just logistics. When there are no ground troops, nothing can be permanent.
(As the ISIL released 49 personnel from Turkey’s Mosul Consulate after holding them as hostage for 101 days) The current conditions are not the conditions of 102 days ago. Hence, we should re-evaluate the situation. […] The ongoing talks are between the related countries and Turkey. Turkey will do what is necessary in the duty that falls to its share. To say that Turkey will never take a military position is wrong. Will other countries protect our borders? No, we will protect our borders ourselves.”