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Saudi deploys aircraft in Turkey

February 14, 2016

Saudi Arabia has sent planes to Turkey to help fight against 'Islamic State' militants in Syria, a defense official said. Turkey has meanwhile reportedly bombed Kurdish and regime positions in Syria for a second day.

Saudi-Arabien F-15 Kampfflugzeuge
Image: Getty Images/AFP/F. Nureldine

Saudi Arabia has confirmed that it has sent aircraft to Turkey's Incirlik air base in a bid to step up operations against the jihadist "Islamic State" (IS) group in Syria, a senior Saudi defense official said late on Saturday.

"The Saudi kingdom now has a presence at Incirlik air base in Turkey. Saudi warplanes are present with their crews to intensify aerial operations along with missions launched from bases in Saudi Arabia," Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri told pan-Arab Al Arabiya television.

Assiri, who is an adviser in the office of Saudi Arabia's minister of defense, said the decision to deploy the warplanes came after a meeting in Brussels of a US-led coalition that is fighting the jihadists in Syria and Iraq, stressing that the move had been made in coordination with the coalition.

Ground operations on the cards

He said no ground troops had yet been sent, but spoke of plans for a ground operation.

"There is a consensus among coalition forces on the need for ground operations, and the kingdom is committed to that," he said, adding that military experts would be meeting soon to finalize details.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday that the two countries could take part in ground operations against IS in Syria. Syria's foreign minister warned last week, however, that any such action would "amount to aggression that must be resisted."

Both Riyadh and Ankara oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is fighting to put down an insurgency waged by a mixture of rebels ranging from forces regarded by the West as "moderate" to radical Islamist groups such as IS and the al-Nusra Front. In recent months, he has been aided by Russian airstrikes that Moscow says are aimed at extremist rebels.

Complex conflicts

Saudi Arabia has recently resumed its participation in coalition airstrikes against IS, despite having been accused in the past by Iran of directly supporting the group. Authorities in Riyadh fear that "IS" could serve as a model for Saudi jihadists who would like to oust the monarchy.

Syrische Flüchtlinge an der türkisch-syrischen Grenze
Millions of Syrians have fled the conflict, many of them to EuropeImage: Imago/Zuma

Turkey in its turn has faced accusations of using the fight against "IS" as a cover for its operations against the Kurdish Workers' Party.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said that Turkey carried out a second day of aerial attacks on both Kurdish and regime positions in northern Syria on Sunday, in a move that is likely to further complicate efforts to end the war.

More than 260,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the conflict since it erupted in 2011.

tj/rc (Reuters, AFP)