ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A top aide of Tayyip Erdogan rejected accusations the Turkish president was ready to pitch the country’s armed forces into war in Syria and said any security measures it took would be intended only to secure its southern frontier.
Turkey’s main opposition leader said the “drums of war” were beating as part of an effort to bolster Erdogan’s authority after the AK Party lost its majority in polls. However, armed action across the border in Syria, where Kurdish militia and Islamist militants vie for control, would be disastrous.
Presidential aide Ibrahim Kalin told a news conference Ankara was in talks with NATO allies over its border security, but it already had the necessary legal justification for moves that would preserve its border security. He gave no details.
“It is not sound to interpret measures which we have taken to secure our border with headlines like ‘Turkey is going into a war...Turkey is throwing itself into the fire’,” Kalin said.
Turkish newspapers have carried reports that the government is considering creating a buffer zone across the border, days after Erdogan said Turkey would never allow the formation of a Kurdish state along its southern borders.
Syrian Kurds have made military advances against Islamic State militants but Ankara is wary of the creation of an autonomous Kurdish state in Syrian territory fearing that would further embolden Turkey’s own 14 million Kurds.
“Our security measures are entirely aimed at preserving our border security,” Kalin said.
Turkey is one of the United States’ key strategic allies on the frontiers of Syria and Iraq, despite strains in recent years. America has an air base at Incirlik in southern Turkey though it is not currently used for strikes against Islamic State inside Syria.
The AK Party Erdogan led to power 13 years ago lost its overall majority at June 7 polls and is now seeking a coalition partner. But the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), one possible partner despite past animosity, would not back Erdogan’s plans for a reformed, powerful presidency.
”Even before a government has been established, the drums of war are being beaten for vested interests,“ CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu wrote on his official Twitter account. ”War is not a child’s game nor a vehicle to renew one’s image.
”A good politician knows that feeding off chaos and war will bring disaster instead of success. “This country is not a plaything for your ambition,” he said.
The president on Monday chaired a National Security Council meeting, which voiced concern about a ‘terrorism’ threat from across the border.
Acting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu echoed the sentiments in a speech to his party in parliament.
”Turkey cannot remain indifferent to cross-border developments that could destroy the regional balances.
“We would neither allow Turkey to face a fait accompli nor would we plunge it into an adventure,” he said.
Abdulkadir Selvi, a columnist close to the government, wrote in the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper that Turkey was set to create a buffer zone in Syria 110 km (70 miles) long and 33 km deep in the Jarablus region, currently under control of Islamic State, also known as ISIL.
“Are we going to war with Syria? No. Are we going to war with ISIL? No. Are we going into Syria? Yes, probably. So what will we do? Establish a buffer zone,” he said.
Video footage on Tuesday showed ISIL militants in Syria, meters away from the Turkish frontier, digging trenches and according to CNN Turk laying mines near the two of Jarablus.
Artillery from within Turkey’s borders will aim to secure control, but the deployment of military units within Syria is also envisaged, he said.
He said the military was seeking a written directive for such a deployment and that Davutoglu was getting it prepared.
Turkey kept a limited army contingent in northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War put the area beyond Baghdad’s control. But the generals are widely reported to be reluctant to launch any widescale operations on Syrian soil.
Ankara-based columnist Murat Yetkin said Chief of Staff Necdet Ozel had resisted the idea of intervention.
“Ozel is displaying his unwillingness against Syrian intervention in such an open way that could have required his removal and prosecution under different circumstances,” Yetkin wrote in his column in Radikal daily.
Stripped of its political influence during Erdogan’s years in power, the army is ill inclined to make any public comment.
Kalin said Ankara was also conducting diplomatic contacts with its allies.
The U.S. State Department said on Monday there were “serious logistical challenges” in creating such buffer zones, but that it had not seen any concrete evidence Turkey was considering such a move.
Writing by Humeyra Pamuk, Editing by Ralph Boulton