Turkey masses troops on Syria border
ISTANBUL - As Turkey prepares for a possible intervention in neighbouring Syria with more than 60,000 soldiers deployed along its southern border, the opposition in Ankara is accusing the government of overstepping its mandate by planning a war despite having lost its parliamentary majority.
“I invite the government to show common sense,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), the biggest opposition bloc in parliament, told the Hurriyet daily. “I am warning [the government] not to push Turkey into an adventure, because the price will be high.”
Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said the ruling Islamic-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) was governing the country “illegitimately” because it lost its majority in parliament in June 7th elections.
Yusuf Halacoglu, a leading member of the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a possible coalition partner of the AKP, warned the present AKP government, in office until a new cabinet can be formed, was not in a position to decide to take the country into war.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the AKP leader, says Turkey is ready to defend its border with Syria as fighting rages between Kurdish militias, backed by US-led air strikes, and the Islamic State (ISIS) north of the ISIS “capital” of Raqqa, about 80 kilometres from the Turkish border.
ISIS retook the strategic town of Ain Issa, north of Raqqa, on July 6th but Kurdish forces were reported to have regained control of about a dozen villages that had fallen to ISIS. Fighting continued in Aleppo, 60 kilometres from the border, where rebels and Syrian government forces battle for control.
US President Barack Obama said his country was stepping up its air campaign against ISIS in Raqqa and elsewhere and sent his special envoy for the international anti- ISIS coalition, retired US Marine Corps general John Allen, to Ankara for talks.
According to news reports, the Turkish military, on orders by the Davutoğlu government, has 65,000 soldiers in the border area. About 1,200 tanks, armoured vehicles, howitzers and personnel carriers have been deployed in the area, the reports said.
The build-up has led to speculation that the government planned to intervene in Syria to push ISIS back and halt the advance of Kurdish forces that have made gains against extremists in the area.
Government critics say the AKP might be willing to risk war in Syria to strengthen its position ahead of possible fresh elections, perhaps in October or November, if attempts to form new a government fail.
Fehim Tastekin, foreign editor of the news website Radikal, wrote recently that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — the AKP and government supremo — was aware that Turkey’s Syria policy was in for a big change under a new government. This is why Erdogan wanted to make up for the AKP’s election defeat as “commander-in-chief” in a Syria operation, he added.
An anonymous member of the Turkish leadership, who has been tweeting under the pseudonym “Fuat Avni” and previously correctly predicted several moves by Erdogan, wrote that the president wanted to cling to power by creating chaos in Turkey with the help of a military operation in Syria.