By Jonny Hogg
Turkey cannot be expected to send troops to defend the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani and only Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Syria’s own moderate opposition can save it, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
US warplanes have been bombing Islamic State positions near Kobani for weeks, but air strikes alone will not be enough to repel the insurgents, Davutoglu said.
“Saving Kobani, retaking Kobani and some area around Kobani from ISIS, there’s a need for a military operation,” he said in an interview with the BBC broadcast on Tuesday.
But made clear neither Turkey nor Western allies would commit troops.
“If they (international coalition) don’t want to send their ground troops, how can they expect Turkey to send Turkish ground troops with the same risks on our border,” Davutoglu said.
Kobani, on Turkey’s southeastern border, has been encircled by Islamic State fighters for more than a month, and the battle to save it has become a test of the US-led coalition’s strategy for halting the radical Sunni Muslim group’s advance.
Turkish officials have rebuffed international criticism over their reluctance to do more to help Kobani’s beleaguered Kurdish defenders, whom they say are linked to the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a decades long insurgency against the Turkish state.
After pressure from Western allies, Turkey last week agreed to let peshmerga forces from Iraq cross its territory to reach Kobani as its preferred alternative to US planes air-dropping weapons to Kurdish fighters in the town.
On Monday a Turkish official denied accusations from a Syrian Kurdish leader that Ankara was stalling on the deal, saying the peshmerga could cross “as soon as they are ready”.
“The only way to help Kobani since other countries don’t want to use ground troops, is sending some peace oriented or moderate troops to Kobani. What are they? Peshmerga … and Free Syrian Army (Syrian opposition forces).”
No coalition allies have publicly called on Turkey to intervene militarily but images of Turkish troops standing by as Islamic State advanced just across the border have drawn criticism.
Turkey has repeatedly called for a long-term strategic plan for Syria involving the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from power, fearing that Assad’s forces or Kurdish militants will fill the void if Islamic State is pushed back.
Davutoglu renewed calls on the United States to train and arm fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loose coalition of groups who have been battling Assad and who have long been supported by Turkey.
“Equip and train the Free Syrian Army so that if ISIS (Islamic State) leaves, the regime should not come, so that if ISIS leaves, PKK terrorists should not come,” he said.
“We will help any forces, any coalition, through air bases (within Turkey) or through other means if we have a common understanding to have a new pluralistic, democratic Syria.”
Washington has committed to arming the Syrian opposition to fight Islamic State, but officials remain concerned about identifying effective, moderate groups in the increasingly bloody and radicalised conflict.