US gives boost to Turkey’s fight against Daesh

F-16 Fighting Falcons parked on the tarmac at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey on Aug. 9, 2015. The jets support operations against Daesh. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2017
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US gives boost to Turkey’s fight against Daesh

ANKARA: Turkey’s threat to close its strategic southern Incirlik Air Base to US-led international coalition flights seem to have paid off, according to analysts.
The US recently announced its decision to provide regular aerial intelligence to support Turkey in its military operation against Daesh around the Syrian town of Al-Bab.
Incirlik does not belong to NATO, but is a Turkish base that remains open to the operations of NATO forces due to Ankara’s responsibilities under the alliance.
The US move came after calls, made for more than a month, by Turkey’s top officials — Ibrahim Kalin, the top aide of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Mevlut Cavusoglu, the minister of foreign affairs — for Washington to support Turkish forces in their fighting against Daesh.
There was also questioning over the use of Incirlik airbase by coalition forces that were perceived as not standing by Turkey as the country faced ever-mounting casualties in its Operation Euphrates Shield at Al-Bab, a critical location in the fight against Daesh.
Washington’s close cooperation with the Syrian Kurdish militia People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in the fight against Daesh also disappointed Turkey, which emphasizes the need to enclose Kurds to the east of the Euphrates and to end the cooperation with them.
Ankara also considers YPG to be an offshoot of the Kurdish PKK, which is deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and EU, and which has been carrying out a three-decade-old insurgency in Turkey’s southeastern provinces.
The Incirlik airbase since July 2015 has been used by anti-Daesh coalition forces in their joint operations against militants in Syria, while manned and unmanned US warplanes deployed at the base carry out strikes against Daesh from Turkey.
Since February, Incirlik has also been used by Saudi fighter jets to target Daesh with airstrikes. Turkey is also part of the Saudi-led military alliance against terrorism launched in 2015.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim traveled to Baghdad on Jan. 7 and held talks with his Iraqi counterpart, Haider Al-Abadi, concerning Turkish troops deployed in northern Iraq’s Bashiqa camp. Although considered an “occupying force,” by Baghdad, Ankara claims that it trains Sunni forces in this camp in their bid to liberate Mosul.
Turkey’s Defense Minister Fikri Isik, who said on Jan. 4 that “the lack of coalition assistance for Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation raises questions about the mission of the Incirlik airbase,” announced Wednesday that Turkish forces will not withdraw from Bashiqa camp until Daesh is eliminated.
Iraq’s Ambassador to Ankara Hisham Al-Alawi said Wednesday Turkey would withdraw from Bashiqa after the Mosul operation, hopefully within three months.
A boost to Turkey’s operation
Michael Stephens, research fellow for Middle East studies and head of the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) Qatar, considers the US support to Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation a positive step.
“It should add a level of precision and increased effectiveness to Turkish military operations, and certainly have beneficial effects, which include lowering the risk of civilian casualties and disabling Daesh activity quicker and with greater impact,” Stephens told Arab News.
However, for the moment, Stephens said he does not believe this will benefit Turkish military activity with Syrian Kurds involved in the fight against Daesh, and as such will be subject to some protection as a result.

The new Trump era
With the incoming Trump presidency on Jan. 20, Turkey is expecting that a new page will turn with the US in terms of regional cooperation.
“The unknown of course is how a Trump administration might change policy on this particular issue, but if all things remain constant US weaponry and ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) will not be used to target the YPG,” Stephens noted.
According to Stephens, Turkey’s rhetoric over a potential closure of its most strategic airbase to coalition partners was partially influential in the recent decision by the US; but the decision to help was primarily strategic.
“The US also realized it needed to do more to help Turkey, and that the Al-Bab operation was crucial to preventing the uniting of the cantons of northern Syria, which would have triggered a war between Turkey and the Democratic Union Party (PYD, which is seen by Turkey as the Syrian affiliate of the PKK),” he said.
“Nevertheless, the US wishes to keep Turkey very firmly within the NATO family and the use of the base is important to this sense of shared security goals and understanding,” he added.
Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who now chairs the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), said he believes that the US air intelligence support would be welcomed by Turkey during the ongoing and difficult Al-Bab operation where this additional facility can help to limit casualties.
“It is not likely to change Turkey’s outlook on the PYD and will not also affect any potential decision to move against the PYD positions in and around Manbij as the next stage of the cross border military campaign,” Ulgen told Arab News.
Ulgen also noted that the implications around the use of Incirlik airbase were conceived as a demonstration over the unease in Ankara over the US reluctance to end its support of the PYD.


Israeli air strikes target Gaza Strip ‘terror targets’ after rocket fire

Updated 12 November 2018
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Israeli air strikes target Gaza Strip ‘terror targets’ after rocket fire

GAZA STRIP: Israel’s military said it was carrying out air strikes “throughout the Gaza Strip” to strike “terror targets” on Monday after a barrage of mortar and rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave toward its territory wounded six people.

A number of rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, while Israel’s army said an Israeli bus was hit by fire from the Palestinian enclave.

Israeli medics say a 19-year-old man was critically wounded in the attack, the man apparently sustained the wounds in a mortar attack from Gaza that struck the bus. Black smoke could be seen billowing into the air from the area of the mortar strike.

A picture taken from the Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018 shows missiles being launched toward Israel. (AFP)

The flare-up comes after a clash that erupted during an Israeli special forces operation in the Gaza Strip late on Sunday that killed eight people, including an Israeli officer.

Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, vowed revenge for the attack and claimed to fire mortars and rockets from Gaza.

A picture taken from the Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018 shows missiles being launched toward Israel. A number of rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel. (AFP)

The renewed violence was threatening to derail weeks of efforts to end unrest along the Gaza-Israel border.

The dead from the incident late Sunday included an Israeli army officer and a local commander for Hamas's armed wing. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a trip to Paris and rushed home as tensions rose.

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008 and recent unrest has raised fears of a fourth.