US, Turkey plan for IS-free zone in northern Syria

US, Turkey plan for IS-free zone in northern Syria
The United States and Turkey are finalising plans for a military campaign to push the Islamic State group out of a strip of Syrian territory along the Turkish border.
4 min read
27 July, 2015
Turkey has stepped up its involvement in Syria's increasingly complex civil war [Anadolu]

The United States and Turkey are finalising plans for a military campaign to push the Islamic State group out of a strip of Syrian territory along the Turkish border, a move that would further embroil Turkey in Syria's civil war and set up a potential conflict with US-backed Kurdish forces.

A US official said the creation of an "Islamic State-free zone" would ensure greater security and stability in the Turkish-Syrian border region.


However, the official said any joint military efforts with Turkey would not include the imposition of a no-fly zone. The official insisted on anonymity because this person was not authorised to publicly discuss the talks with Turkey.

The US has long rejected Turkish and other requests for a no-fly zone to halt Syrian government air raids, fearing it would draw US forces further into the civil war.

The discussions come amid a major tactical shift in Turkey's approach to the Islamic State.

After months of reluctance, Turkish warplanes started striking militant targets in Syria last week, following a long-awaited agreement allowing the US to launch its own strikes from Turkey's strategically located Incirlik Air Base.

But in a series of cross border strikes since Friday, Turkey has not only targeted the IS group but also Kurdish fighters affiliated with forces battling the extremists in Syria and Iraq.

The Syrian Kurds are among the most effective ground forces battling the IS group and have been aided by US-led airstrikes, but Turkey fears they could revive an insurgency against Ankara in pursuit of an independent state.

It was not immediately clear how an IS-free zone would be established along the Turkish-Syrian border, most of which is controlled by the Kurds.

Syria's main Kurdish fighting force is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and maintains bases in remote parts of northern Iraq.

Turkey tragets Syrian Kurds

On Monday Syria's main Kurdish militia and an activist group said Turkish troops had shelled a Syrian village near the border, targeting Kurdish fighters.

The Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, said the Sunday night shelling on the border village of Til Findire targeted one of their vehicles.

It said Til Findire is east of the border town of Kobane, where the Kurds handed a major defeat to the Islamic State group earlier this year.

But Turkish officials dismissed the claims, insisting their forces were only targeting the IS group in Syria, and the PKK in neighbouring Iraq.

A government official said Turkey returned fire after Turkish soldiers at the border were fired upon, in line with Turkey's rules of engagement.

"The Syrian Kurds are not a target of the operations. Our operations only target IS in Syria and PKK in Iraq," he said.

The Turkish official said authorities were "investigating claims that the Turkish military engaged positions held by forces other than ISIS." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of rules that bar officials from speaking to journalists without authorisation.

The YPG did not say in its Monday statement whether there were casualties in the shelling.

The YPG said Turkey first shelled Til Findire on Friday, wounding four fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army and several local villagers. It urged Turkey to "halt this aggression and to follow international guidelines."

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said four fighters were wounded in the village of Zor Maghar, which is also close to the Turkish border. Conflicting reports are common in the aftermath of violent incidents.

Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, also added on Monday that Turkey will "not send ground troops into Syria".

We will not send ground forces," Davutoglu told a group of Turkish newspaper editors according to the Hurriyet daily.

"We do not want to see Daesh on our border," Davutoglu said using an Arabic acronym for IS, the Hurriyet daily quoted him as saying.

Earlier this month, Syria's main Kurdish party, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, warned Turkey that any military intervention would threaten international peace and said its armed wing, the YPG, would respond to any "aggression."

Turkish police meanwhile raided homes in a neighbourhood in the capital on Monday, detaining at least 15 people suspected of links to the Islamic State group, the Turkish state-run news agency said.

The Anadolu Agency said those detained in Ankara's Haci Bayram neighbourhood include a number of foreign nationals, without naming their home countries.

Turkey has arrested hundreds of people with suspected links to violent extremists.