Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could take a military role in the coalition fighting Islamic State (IS) militants as Ankara moves to take a frontline position in the campaign, the Hurriyet daily reported Saturday.
In comments made aboard his presidential plane to Turkish reporters as he travelled back from the United States, Erdogan also indicated he backed the use of ground troops inside Syria, Hurriyet reported on its website.
Erdogan already signalled at a news conference Friday after his return from New York that Turkey was shifting its position to adopt a more frontline role in the fight against IS.
But the comments aboard the plane strongly indicated Turkey will move to play a military role once the government wins approval from parliament at a planned debate on October 2.
“It’s wrong to say that Turkey will not take any kind of military position. Turkey will do whatever is its duty to do,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan also reaffirmed his calls for buffer and no-fly zones to ensure the safety of Turkish borders and the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled there, indicating ground forces would be necessary for this.
“You are not going to be able to finish off a terrorist group just with air strikes,” he said.
“At some point ground forces will be fundamental.
“Of course, I am not a soldier, but air (forces) are about logistics. If ground troops do not go, then nothing is going to be permanent,” he said.
Erdogan praised the United States for its air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq, saying without them the future of Iraqi Kurdistan would have been in danger.
He said the Turkish government would go to parliament with a motion on October 2 and after this “all the necessary steps” would be taken for Turkey’s involvement in the coalition.
Ankara has for months frustrated the West with its low-key role in the anti-IS campaign but insisted its hands were tied by concerns over the fate of dozens of Turkish hostages abducted by IS in Iraq.
However with those hostages freed last weekend and Erdogan making key contacts on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last week, Ankara appears ready for a more active role.
IS militants have now advanced to the town of Ain al-Arab in northern Syria just a few kilometres south of the Turkish border, prompting some 140,000 refugees to flee to Turkey.