Islamic State crisis: Turkish PM rejects Kobane criticism

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Turkey PM Ahmet Davutoglu: 'We will help coalition forces'

Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has rejected claims that it is not doing enough to help Syrian fighters defeat Islamic State (IS) in Kobane.

He told the BBC it would only take part in operations if the US-led coalition's strategy included military action against Syrian government forces.

Western and Arab air strikes are only targeting jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey would meanwhile "accelerate" the training and equipping of Syrian rebels to fight in Kobane, Mr Davutoglu said.

But he emphasised that negotiations with allies over access to Turkey's military bases for refuelling and air strikes would not succeed until "the parameters are clear".

"Saving Kobane is very important but we should not forget that Kobane is just a result of a much bigger, much more widespread crisis in Syria," said Mr Davutoglu, the former foreign minister who has been a key architect of Turkey's Syria policy and a bitter opponent of President Bashar al-Assad.

Western leaders insist that the only target in their new air campaign is Islamic State, which now controls large swathes of territory in both Syria and Iraq.

Reinforcements 'ready'

Kobane has come to symbolise the brutal march of IS and saving the town is now an immediate priority of the United States.

Mr Davutoglu lashed out against Turkey's critics, saying it "did not want to be part of the game for a few weeks or months just to satisfy American or European public opinion".

Images beamed worldwide of Turkish tanks sitting idly by, within easy reach of Kobane, have provoked questions in Western capitals and sparked unprecedented protests in dozens of Turkish cities, mainly by Turkish Kurds and IS supporters.

Image source, EPA
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A US-led coalition is launching air strikes to help defend Kobane but Turkey refuses to be drawn in

The prime minister's comments to the BBC come after Turkey responded to growing pressure by announcing it would allow Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to cross its border to bolster Syrian Kurds who have been struggling to hold the town against better-armed IS forces.

Weeks of US air strikes have helped stop the town from falling but have not saved it.

The prime minister rejected accusations from Syrian Kurdish groups that Turkey was siding with IS by providing training and support, and by allowing their fighters to pass through its territory.

Mr Davutoglu said Peshmerga and Free Syrian Army fighters were ready to go.

Negotiations over their crossing have been marred by tensions with Syrian Kurdish groups inside Kobane.

Turkey's prime minister reiterated that it would only agree to send in its own troops into Syria once others, including the US and European countries, were ready to put their own boots on the ground - which they have repeatedly made clear they are not prepared to do.

'No-fly zone'

Mr Davutoglu claimed that Turkey's longstanding call for a no-fly zone over northern Syria was gaining ground. He spoke of "a very intensive consultation between intelligence, diplomatic and military representatives".

The US and other world powers have long rejected this option used in Libya as unworkable, if not undesirable, in Syria.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Turkish tanks have been deployed along the border near Kobane, but have not attacked IS positions

Mr Davutoglu said some countries, which he did not name, "had many statements that all the options are on the table".

Turkey has repeatedly appealed for a no-fly zone to enable the establishment of safe havens inside Syria for the many families still fleeing the violence.

The influx of some 200,000 refugees from Kobane pushed Turkey's Syrian refugee population to 2 million, according to Mr Davutoglu.

But the Turkish leader said they would not follow Lebanon which has now shut the door on any more refugees, except for emergency cases.

"We don't want to just save Kobane," he emphasised. "We will take all the military risks, security risks, whenever we see an integrated strategy and the light at the end of the tunnel" for all Syrians.