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Turkey says US to deploy rocket launcher by Syria border

The US is set to deploy a rocket launcher system in southeastern Turkey, across the border from Syria. The move is to bolster Turkey's attempts to repel 'IS' from the area and create buffer zones for Syrian refugees.

Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in an interview with the Haberturk newspaper published Tuesday, said US HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) missiles (photo) would arrive in May as part of joint efforts against the self-declared "Islamic State" (IS) in Syria.

Turkey is part of the US-led coalition against IS and hosts 2.7 million Syrian refugees. It is a crucial player in ongoing attempts to reduce the inflow of refugees into Europe and also in the fight against IS in Syria.

Turkish missiles have a range of about 40 kilometers (25 miles), whereas HIMARS missiles can reach up to 90 kilometers.

"Our main target is to clear IS from a 98-kilometer-long border area and Manbij," a town overrun by the group near the Turkish border, Cavusoglu said, according to Haberturk.

Safety zones

"When this is achieved, a safe zone would be naturally formed for Syrian refugees," he added.

This is something that Turkey has long advocated, but failed to get its allies to support.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has supported such zones as buffers to halt the flow of refugees coming into Europe, while

US President Barack Obama

has voiced doubts about their effectiveness.

The US and Turkey have been discussing a joint military plan to drive IS from the border area - the site of battles between IS, US-backed Kurdish fighters and other rebels fighting to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Fortifying the border

Turkish police in Istanbul

Turkish police in Istanbul

Speaking in parliament recently, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey would fortify the border and take additional military measures against IS.

Turkey regularly shells IS targets in northern Syria in response to cross-border rockets launched from the other side - some of which have hit the Turkish town of

Kilis.

Strikes coordinated with Iraq

Meanwhile, the US and its allies targeted IS with 25 strikes Monday in their latest assault. In a statement released Tuesday the Combined Joint Task Force said 18 strikes coordinated with the Iraqi government had hit some 10 cities, including Falluja, where they struck two IS tactical units, two bridges and destroyed 11 fighting positions. Other strikes hit targets near Mosul, Kirkuk and Hit, among other cities in Iraq, the statement said.

jbh/jm (AP, Reuters)

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