Turkey and the United States will intensify operations aimed at flushing Islamic State militants from a strip of northern Syria’s border with Turkey in the coming days, Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
The fight against the radical jihadists has taken on a new intensity since attacks claimed by the group killed 129 people in Paris last week and a bomb downed a Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula last month, killing 224. Both French and Russian war planes have stepping up air strikes in Syria.
“We will not allow Daesh to continue its presence on our border,” Sinirlioglu was quoted as saying by the state-run Anadolu Agency, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
“We have long continued air operations in that region with the United States … We have certain plans to terminate the Daesh presence on our border. Once these plans are finalised, our operations will intensify. You will see this in the coming days,” he said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday his country would start an operation with Turkey to secure the northern Syrian border.
“The entire border of northern Syria — 75 per cent of it has now been shut off. And we are entering an operation with the Turks to shut off the other remaining 98 km,” he said in an interview with CNN.
Neither Kerry nor Sinirlioglu gave further details. Both the United States and Turkey, which has the second largest army in the NATO military alliance, have so far ruled out sending any significant number of ground troops into northern Syria.
But they have for months been discussing a joint plan of intensified air strikes to drive Islamic State from a strip of border territory just under 100 km long, stretching west from the Syrian town of Jarablus on the banks of the Euphrates roughly to the town of Azaz.
They hope that by sweeping Islamic State from this border zone in collaboration with Syrian opposition forces on the ground, they can deprive the group of a smuggling route which has seen its ranks swollen with foreign fighters and its coffers boosted by illicit trade.