Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Friday his country was not planning an incursion into neighboring Syria. But he did announce the deployment of more troops and military equipment to the border as fighting north of the city Aleppo intensified.
“It is correct that we have taken precautions to protect our border,” Davutoğlu said. But he added that “no one should have the expectation that Turkey will enter Syria tomorrow or in the near term.”
Turkish media reported this week that the NATO country was planning to send up to 18,000 soldiers thirty kilometers deep into Syria to prevent an independent Kurdish state from emerging there.
Kurdish militants have recently made gains against the self-declared Islamic State in areas along the Syrian-Turkish border.
Last year, Syria’s Kurds set up an independent municipal council to run affairs in one of their three administrative districts.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey would “never allow” an independent Kurdistan being declared on its frontier. “We will continue our fight in that respect whatever the cost may be,” he vowed.
18 percent of Turkey’s population is estimated to be Kurdish. The country’s largest minority has long pressed for autonomy while the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has waged war on the Turkish state.
The PKK has ties with Syria’s Kurds and used bases in their territory to stage attacks against Turkey in the past.
But a military intervention in the Syrian civil war, now in its fifth year, would carry significant risks.
Ankara could end up alienating Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government which enjoys a high degree of autonomy from Baghdad and trades oil with the Turks.
A military effort would also unnerve Turkey’s Western allies who see the Kurds as a bulwark against the fanatical Islamic State.
Arab and Western countries regularly carry out airstrikes against the Islamist group which controls areas in eastern Syria as well as western Iraq.
The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has largely shied away from fighting Islamic State militants, concentrating its firepower instead on more moderate rebels in the south. There is even evidence that his intelligence and security apparatus actively enabled the Sunni insurgency that spawned into the Islamic State.
Loyalist forces nevertheless mounted heavy airstrikes on Friday against warring Islamist groups in and around Aleppo.
Fifty kilometers south of the Turkish border, Aleppo was Syria’s most populous city before the revolt against Assad started in 2011. It has been partitioned into zones of regime and rebel control since 2012.
Islamic State is weak in the city itself but holds territory to the north, dividing the Kurdish areas in two. The Kurds aspire to push Islamic State militants south so they can link up their territories which border on Turkey.