Report: Saudi Arabia to send warplanes to Turkey's Incirlik base

Saudi Arabia will deploy warplanes and, eventually, troops to the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, Turkey's foreign minister was quoted as saying in local media on Saturday, in comments where he did not rule out possible ground operations in Syria.

The possibility of further Saudi Arabian involvement in Syria was raised just as world powers are trying to cement a deal for a partial ceasefire in Syria.

US forces have made use of Incirlik airbase to launch attacks against Islamic State. Turkey, after lengthy negotiations and under pressure from Washington, last year opened up the base, strategically located close to the Syrian border, for such use. 

The exact size of any potential Saudi deployment is yet to be determined, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told local media outlets on his plane back from the Munich security conference.

The minister also said that Turkey was looking to reset its relationship with the United Arab Emirates. 

On Friday, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter told reporters that the UAE was ready to "restart their participation in the air campaign" against Islamic State, and stressed the key role of both the Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

He implied special forces from the Gulf would help "local forces" in Syria to retake Raqqa, the Islamic State's de facto capital in the north. 

So far, the US has largely allied with Kurdish forces on the ground in Syria to push back Islamic State. 

The Kurds have seized vast territories along the border with Turkey across the north, though this has worried Turkey, which is fighting Kurdish rebels on its own territory.

The Kurdish forces, though the most reliable partner the US has on the ground, are often said to be unable to take territory outside of their home zone, including Arab areas, such as Raqqa.

Kurdish forces have made gains in recent days against hardline Islamic factions in north-west Syria, as Syrian rebels are being weakened by intense Russian airstrikes in the Aleppo area. Their supply routes to Turkey, a key backer, have been largely cut.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the airstrikes, creating a humanitarian crisis on the Turkish border, which remains shut to the refugees. 

World powers are working to implement a nationwide ceasefire in Syria next week and step up humanitarian aid. The plan does not include stopping airstrikes against Islamic State or the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front.

However, rebels factions have fought alongside al-Nusra, which is in some areas interwoven into opposition forces battling President Bashar al-Assad's forces, complicating the situation.

Al-Assad this week said he sees a risk that Turkey and Saudi Arabia, both staunch opponents of his rule, would intervene military in Syria. 

Last update: Sat, 13/02/2016 - 12:34

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