Turkey and the United States will soon launch “comprehensive” air operations to flush militants of the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL) takfiri group from a zone in northern Syria bordering Turkey, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Reuters on Monday.
Detailed talks between Washington and Ankara on the plans were completed on Sunday, and regional allies including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, as well as Britain and France may also take part, Cavusoglu said in an interview.
“The technical talks have been concluded, yesterday, and soon we will start this operation, comprehensive operations, against ISIL,” he said.
The United States and Turkey plan to provide air cover for what Washington judges to be “moderate Syrian rebels” as part of the operations, which aim to flush ISIL from a rectangle of border territory roughly 80 km (50 miles) long, officials familiar with the plans have said.
Diplomats say cutting ISIL’s access to the Turkish border, across which it has been able to bring foreign fighters and supplies, could be a game-changer. US jets have already begun air strikes from Turkish bases in advance of the campaign.
Cavusoglu also made clear that Syrian Kurdish PYD militia forces, which have proved a useful ally on the ground for Washington as it launched air strikes on ISIL elsewhere in Syria, would not have a role in the “safe zone” that the joint operations aim to create, unless they changed their policies.
“Yes, the PYD has been fighting ISIL … But the PYD is not fighting for the territorial integrity or political unity of Syria. This is unacceptable,” Cavusoglu said.
“We prefer that the moderate opposition forces actually control the safe zone, or ISIL-free areas, in the northern part of Syria, not the PYD, unless they change their policies radically in that sense.”
Both Ankara and Washington had given this message directly to the PYD, he said.