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US, Turkey aim for IS-free zone on Syrian border

The United States and Turkey are finalising plans for a military campaign to push the Islamic State group out of a strip of Syrian territory along the Turkish border.

A US official said the creation of an "Islamic State-free zone" would ensure greater security and stability in the Turkish-Syrian border region.

However, the official said any joint military efforts with Turkey would not include the imposition of a no-fly zone.

The US has long rejected Turkish and other requests for a no-fly zone to halt Syrian government air raids, fearing it would draw forces further into the civil war.

The discussions come amid a major tactical shift in Turkey's approach to the Islamic State. After months of reluctance, Turkish war planes started striking militant targets in Syria last week following a long-awaited agreement allowing the US to launch its own strikes from Turkey's strategically located Incirlik Air Base.

Turkey called a meeting of its Nato allies to discuss threats to its security as well as its airstrikes.

A Turkish-driven military campaign to push IS out of territory along the Turkish border is likely to complicate matters on the ground. Kurdish fighters in Syria control most of the 565 miles boundary with Turkey, and have warned Ankara against any military intervention in northern Syria.

In a series of cross border strikes since Friday, Turkey has not only targeted the IS group but also Kurdish fighters affiliated with forces battling the extremists in Syria and Iraq. The Syrian Kurds are among the most effective ground forces battling the IS group and have been aided by US-led airstrikes, but Turkey fears they could revive an insurgency against Ankara in pursuit of an independent state.

Syria's main Kurdish militia - the YPG or the People's Protection Units - is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and maintains bases in remote parts of northern Iraq.

It was not immediately clear how an IS-free zone would be established along the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey and the United States had no plans to send ground troops into Syria but wanted to see Syria's moderate opposition forces replace IS near the Turkish border.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has refused to draw a distinction between the Islamic State group and the PKK.

"There is no difference between PKK and Daesh. You can't say that PKK is better because it is fighting Daesh," Mr Cavusoglu said. "The PKK is fighting the IS group for power, not for peace, not for security."

Mr Cavusoglu, who spoke to reporters during an official visit to Lisbon, Portugal, said he would inform Turkey's Nato partners about the security threats his country is facing at the Brussels meeting on Tuesday. "We expect solidarity and support from our NATO allies," he said.

A Turkish official said Turkey and the US were discussing "the formation of a de-facto safe zone" which would facilitate the return of Syrian refugees from Turkey. He said Turkey, was prepared to provide all necessary assistance to the zone, including "air support".


From Belfast Telegraph