Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Turkey could become involved in the international fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if a motion to send Turkish ground troops into Syria is passed in the Turkish parliament on Tuesday.
The motion, which Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu submitted on Thursday, calls for Turkish ground forces to enter Syrian territory to protect Turkish “national security,” as well as establishing a buffer zone inside Syria protected by a no-fly zone. The measure is also aimed at stemming the flow of Syrian refugees into Turkey, where an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees are now sheltering, including 160,000 Kurds who fled Ain Al-Arab—known also as Kobani—in Syria last week, in what was the single biggest exodus of refugees out of the country since its three-year conflict began.
An informed source, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, told Asharq Al-Awsat the use of ground troops and the establishment of the buffer zone were conditions for Turkey’s official involvement in the international US-led coalition against ISIS.
Other Turkish sources, who also requested anonymity, said there were currently plans in place to set up the buffer zone. The sources also denied Turkey was planning for a “land invasion” of any kind, and said the ground force push was designed to block the flow of weapons and fighters belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party between Syria and Turkey.
The sources denied Ankara had engaged in any cooperation with either “terrorists such as these [ISIS] or the Syrian regime,” dismissing allegations Ankara has been turning a blind eye to the flow of fighters and weapons across its borders into Syria, and that it was in communication with the group before and during its operation on September 20 to rescue 49 Turkish diplomatic hostages captured by ISIS when it overran the city of Mosul in June.
Following his attendance at the UN General Assembly in New York last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey had a role to play in the fight against ISIS, also adding that airstrikes were unlikely to deliver a crushing blow to the group without ground forces.
“You can’t finish off such a terrorist organization only with airstrikes,” Erdoğan told the Turkish daily Hürriyet in comments carried by Reuters. “Ground forces are complementary . . . You have to look at it as a whole. Obviously I’m not a soldier but the air [operations] are logistical. If there’s no ground force, it would not be permanent.”
This comes as three mortar shells fired from Syria amid fighting between Kurdish and ISIS fighters landed in the Turkish province of Şanlıurfa, injuring three, the Turkish military said in a statement. Nearby villages were evacuated and 35 Turkish tanks were immediately deployed to the border.