Turkey steps up involvement in Syrian conflict

Change in strategy follows death of soldier and 32 activists at hands of Islamic State

Turkey looks set to open a new chapter of its involvement in the Syria conflict, with prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Turkey has also announced that US and coalition war planes will use the Incirlik air base outside the city of Adana from next month in a move that had followed months of negotiations with Washington.

“[Friday morning’s] operation against Daesh [Islamic State] achieved its goal and will never stop as we observe movement on and near the Syrian border any moment,” he said.

Turkey's position on military intervention in Syria had until this week been reticent and shaped chiefly by Ankara's concerns about growing Kurdish influence in northern Syria. It also feared being drawn into and left alone to oppose the double complication of Islamic State and the Syrian regime, whose collective actions have forced 1.7 million civilians to flee to Turkey since 2011.


But the killing of a soldier in a cross-border scuffle with Islamic State militants on Thursday, following the massacre of 32 activists by an Islamic State- linked Turkish man in the border town of Suruc three days earlier, has changed the government’s calculations.

Military air bases

Turkey’s entry to the war against Islamic State, of which it is not an official coalition participant, will allow for more timely aerial sorties through four military air bases situated within 400km of Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria.

Ankara has quietly been pushing the idea of a buffer zone that would reach up to 50km into Syria, according to reports in Turkish media.

The proposed area would include a partial no-fly zone that would, Ankara believes, also serve to curb Kurdish influence. The announcement that US warplanes can use Turkish bases came within days of Monday’s bombing leading analysts to suggest that in return a deal or compromise has been reached regarding the proposed buffer zone, which the US formerly opposed.

Islamic State ideology has grown among conservative Islamists in Turkey during the past two years, meaning the country may be the target of further violent attacks.

Turkish security organisations have been accused of aiding and ignoring militant jihadist groups using the country as a conduit to move weapons and foreign fighters into Islamic State-controlled territory in north and northeastern Syria.

In an attempt to pre-empt future attacks, on Friday thousands of Turkish police rounded up 297 people including dozens of foreigners suspected of supporting Islamic State and other militant organisations in an operation that spanned 16 provinces. One person was reportedly killed in Istanbul during the operation.


Since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in 2011, Turkish authorities had allowed refugees and later Syrian and foreign fighters pass unhindered through its 900km border.

As the revolt turned to outright war in 2012, radical groups including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State began winning control of vast swathes of territory and have since imposed their ideologies on local communities. The Turkish government has also vowed to tackle Kurdish and leftist militancy following the killing of three policemen in two separate incidents this week and a series of thwarted attacks on police buildings earlier this year by the leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front.

Turkish authorities previously claimed to have clamped down on cross-border activity.

"The developments and structure in northern Syria make it necessary for Turkey to take different steps," president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday. However, security checkpoints have been absent on roads around the Akcakale border area, from where foreign fighters have regularly entered Syria.