WASHINGTON Turkey and the United States are working on plans to provide air cover for Syrian rebels and jointly sweep Islamic State fighters from a strip of land along the Turkish border, bolstering the NATO member’s security and possibly providing a safe haven for civilians.
Long a reluctant member of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, Turkey last week made a dramatic turnaround by granting the alliance access to its air bases and bombarding targets in Syria linked to the jihadist movement.
Struggling with more than 1.8 million Syrian refugees, Turkey has long campaigned for a “no-fly zone” in northern Syria to keep Islamic State and Kurdish militants from its border and help stem the tide of displaced civilians trying to cross.
While no such formal arrangement has been struck with Washington, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the two allies saw eye to eye on the need to provide air cover for moderate Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State.
“What we have now is air coverage to clear a region from Daesh (Islamic State) and support the moderate opposition so they can gain control of that region,” Davutoglu told Turkey’s ATV in an interview broadcast live.
“We do not want to see Daesh on Turkey’s borders.”
In Washington, U.S. officials said discussions were ongoing about the size and scope of a zone along the border that would be cleared of Islamic State fighters and allow moderate Syrian rebels to operate freely.
U.S. officials ruled out the joint imposition of a formal no-fly zone and said the plan was not aimed at creating a “safe zone” for Syrian refugees.