ANKARA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey was prepared for all necessary measures to tackle security threats along its borders, highlighting Ankara’s growing anxiety about conflict near its southern frontier in Syria.
The National Security Council, chaired by President Tayyip Erdogan, expressed concern about a threat of “terrorism” from the Syrian border as local media reported Ankara was considering military steps to counter security risks from Syria.
A statement from the council following its meeting also said Turkey was worried about demographic changes in the region, in an apparent reference to the displacement of Arab and Turkmen Syrians following fighting in recent weeks.
Syrian Kurdish forces continued to make military advances against Islamic militants with Ankara fearing the creation of an autonomous Kurdish state in Syrian territory that would further embolden Turkey’s own 14 million Kurds.
Erdogan said on Saturday Turkey would never allow the formation of a Kurdish state along its southern borders.
Syrian Kurdish forces secured the town of Kobani next to the border over the weekend, beating back Islamic State militants.
“If any harm is to come to Turkey’s border security, if Turkey reaches the conclusion that this garden of peace is being threatened, it is prepared for any eventuality,” Davutoglu said in comments broadcast late on Sunday.
“We will take the necessary measures to reduce the risks related to cross-border security.”
The pro-government Star newspaper said a possible cross-border operation would be considered at the national security council meeting, citing unnamed sources.
One option that could be considered was the creation of a 110 km (70 mile) “secure zone” within Syria, the newspaper said.
Saban Disli, an adviser to Davutoglu, told Reuters the meeting was likely to bring a change in the military’s rules of engagement, describing advances of both Kurdish forces and Islamic State militants as “dangerous”.
He did not say how the rules could be changed. However, the pro-government Sabah newspaper said policy could be altered to allow Turkish forces to attack Islamic State fighters near the border. Currently, Turkish forces retaliate in kind against any attack from Syrian territory.
“Turkey will not take any unilateral step on the Syrian side independent of the international coalition,” a senior government official told Reuters. “But we have our sensitivity on border gates not coming under the control of ISIL or the PYD (Kurdish forces).”
The National Security Council statement gave no detail about what was discussed or what, if any, decisions were taken.
Military action could anger Turkey’s Kurdish minority at a time when the peace process between Ankara and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has stalled.
A senior PKK commander, Murat Karayilan, told a Kurdish news website the group would retaliate if the military intervened in Kurdish areas of Syria. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara, the European Union and the United States.
Brokerage Finansbank said in a note to clients that given Turkey’s current political uncertainty - Davutoglu’s AK Party still needs to find a junior partner to form a government following its election setback this month - any intervention would likely be limited.
“We remain doubtful that a ‘lame duck’ government could undertake anything more than a ‘targeted’ operation that would be limited in both scale and scope,” it said.
Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun; Writing by David Dolan and Dasha Afanasieva; Editing by Ralph Boulton