Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 3 April 2020

Turkey says it might get US missiles to protect troops in Syria

More than a dozen Turkish soldiers have already been killed amid a Syrian government offensive in Idlib province

Turkish troops patrol on foot and in military vehicles in the town of Atareb in Syria's Aleppo province on February 19. AFP
Turkish troops patrol on foot and in military vehicles in the town of Atareb in Syria's Aleppo province on February 19. AFP

Turkey on Thursday said it wanted no trouble with Moscow over Syria's offensive near its border, but claimed it might receive US defence missiles to protect Turkish forces.

Tension has mounted in the past three months between Turkey, which backs some of the rebels, and Syrian ally Moscow over President Bashar Al Assad's offensive in north-west Idlib.

This month, 14 Turks were killed in two separate incidents of regime shelling in Idlib, the rebels' last hold in Syria. Two more were killed on Thursday.

"We have no intentions of a face-off with Russia," Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told broadcaster CNN Turk.

Mr Akar said talks would continue with Russian officials.

One of the issues being discussed is the airspace above Idlib and Turkey's expectations for Russia not to get involved, he said.

There has been no concrete agreement between Russia and Turkey after two rounds of talks between their delegations in Ankara and Moscow this month.

Ankara insists that it wants to avoid a humanitarian disaster but also wants to avert a flow of refugees into Turkey, which is already home to 3.6 million Syrians.

Turkey has 12 observation posts in Idlib province, set up after a deal signed with Russia in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in 2018 to prevent a regime offensive.

The Syrian regime offensive has left hundreds of dead in Idlib and forced 900,000 people to flee their homes since December.

"There is the threat of air strikes, missiles against our country," Mr Akar said. "There could be Patriot support."

He was referring to the US-made missiles capable of shooting down aircraft and other missiles.

Mr Akar ruled out any US troop support. Later, two Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib in an air strike blamed on Damascus.

Any delivery of US Patriots would be difficult because Ankara bought the Russian S-400 air defence system in spite of objections from Washington.

Despite this and the remaining threat of US sanctions against Turkey over the purchase, Mr Akar said the system "would be activated. No one should doubt this".

He said Turkey still sought to by the Patriots, an equivalent of the S-400 system, despite US concern over the Russian-made defences.

Mr Akar again criticised the US over its move last year to kick Turkey off its F-35 fighter jet programme as punishment for the S-400 purchase.

"We are a partner in the programme, not a customer," he said.

Turkey has warned Damascus of an "imminent" operation if regime forces do not move behind Ankara's military posts in Idlib.

Updated: February 21, 2020 04:32 AM



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