Turkey may send troops into Syria and Iraq and allow foreign soldiers to use its bases for cross-border incursions against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, according to a government proposal to be debated by parliament on Thursday.
The advance by ISIS fighters to within clear sight of Turkish military positions on the Syrian border has piled pressure on Ankara to take a more robust role in the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the insurgents.
The militants are also advancing on a tomb in northern Syria guarded by Turkish soldiers, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on Tuesday. The tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the Ottoman Empire’s founder, was made Turkish territory under a treaty signed with France in 1921, when France ruled Syria.
The government submitted a proposal to parliament late on Tuesday which would broaden existing military powers, in a bid to enable the army to “defeat attacks directed towards our
country from all terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria”.
“The cabinet of ministers has decided … to ask permission from parliament … to send the Turkish Armed Forces if necessary to foreign countries for cross-border operations and
interventions, and to position foreign militaries in Turkey for the same purposes,” the proposal said.
The ruling AK Party’s strong majority means the proposal is likely to be approved.
Turkey has so far declined to take a frontline role in the US-led military campaign, fearful that it could strengthen Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and bolster Kurdish militants allied to Kurds in Turkey who have fought for three decades for greater autonomy.
It also argues that air strikes alone will do little to address long-term instability on its 1,200-km (750-mile) southern frontier.
Turkey, a NATO member and Washington’s key ally in the region, has been playing a major role in fueling the armed crisis in Syria over the past three years by opening its borders and allowing free access to foreign jihadists into Syria.
The Syrian government has repeatedly accused Turkey of harboring, financing, training, and arming militants since violence erupted in March 2011.
Damascus sent letters to the United Nations time and again attacking Turkey’s “destructive” role in the Syrian conflict.
In 2013, Syria’s foreign ministry said in letters addressed to the UN Security Council and to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that “Turkey supports and publicly justifies terrorist, destructive acts against Syria” and “has turned its territory into camps used to house, train, finance and infiltrate armed terrorist groups, chief among them the al-Qaeda network and the al-Nusra Front.”
Again in 2014, Syria’s Permanent Representative to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari submitted a letter to Ban Ki-moon in which the Syrian government criticized “Turkey’s role in supporting terrorism in the region.”
Jaafari said the Turkish authorities allowed thousands of foreign terrorists, extremists and mercenaries from across the world to enter Syria and provided armed groups with funds, weapons and other forms of support, which is “blatant violation of international agreements on counter-terrorism.”
One non-Syrian Islamist fighter who joined the Syrian rebel ranks in 2012 told Reuters the Turkish borders “were wide open” and armed rebels “used to get in and out of Turkey very easily. No questions were asked. Arms shipments were smuggled easily into Syria.”
Turkey has repeatedly denied such accusations.
The United States has an air base at Incirlik in southwestern Turkey near the Syrian border.