Turkey and the US struck a note of discord over Ankara's involvement in military action against Islamic State on Monday, after Turkish officials rejected American claims that coalition forces would be allowed to launch missions from the country's bases.
US officials told the Associated Press on Sunday that Turkey had agreed to allow coalition aircraft to operate from bases including Incirlik, around 100 miles from the Syrian border. However, a Turkish government official on Monday denied that there was any new agreement over the use of Incirlik, and that Ankara's position on cooperation in the fight against IS had not changed.
"There is no new agreement with the United States about Incirlik," the official told AFP.
"Negotiations are continuing," the official said, adding that Turkey was sticking to conditions such as the establishment of a buffer zone across the border in Syria and a no-fly zone.
Ankara has also refrained from confirming a deal to allow moderate Syrian rebels to be trained on its territory, announced by US National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Sunday.
Washington has been pushing Turkey to play a more active role in the broad anti-IS coalition it assembled in Paris last month with little success. The Turkish parliament has passed legislation allowing military operations against IS in neighbouring Syria and Iraq, but so far it has not taken action itself.
On Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that "moderate" armed opposition groups in Syria should be provided with military backing in the fight against President Bashar al-Assad's government.
"We need a security force to protect the Syrian people both from IS and the regime," Davutoglu told the local Sabah daily. "The solution is a third force....which represents the Syrian people and is made up of Syrians, not foreign fighters." US State Department spokeswoman Marie Hard said last week that Turkey had agreed to "support, train and equip" Syrian rebel groups.
The moves come after growing international pressure on Turkey for its lack of action to stop a major IS offensive on majority Kurdish Kobane, also known as Ayn al-Arab, on the Syrian-Turkish border. IS militants have moved into the town itself in recent days prompting fears that they would massacre civilians remaining in the city, which sources in Kobane and local activists told VICE News number around 1,000. Many thousands more have fled.
President Erdogan has said that Kobane would not be allowed to fall. However, proposed solutions, like a buffer zone on its border, are unlikely to be agreed upon by the US and other allies and are perceived by some observers as being proposed on that basis only. A buffer zone would require a large commitment of ground forces and would almost certainly result in politically unpopular deaths of Turkish troops. The US has not asked "the Turks to send ground forces of their own into Syria," President Barack Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice told NBC.
Kurdish officials have called for Turkey to allow supplies and weapons into the town. However it has been reluctant to do so, possibly because the People's Protection Units (YPG) defending the city have links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a group that fought for more than 30 years for greater autonomy within Turkey and is considered by authorities to be a terrorist organization.
There is, as a result, widespread feeling amongst local Kurds that Turkey is conspiring with IS to bring about the fall of the town.
The battle for Kobane continued on Sunday, although there appeared to be something of a lull in the fighting during the afternoon. From vantage points overlooking the town on the Turkish side of the border sporadic gunfire and explosions could be heard. However, these were far less frequent than in previous days and the plumes of smoke which had risen over the town has dissipated.
At a hospital in Suruc where many of the Kurdish civilians and fighters wounded are being treated, groups of bored looking ambulance crews told VICE News that there had only been three cases from Kobane that day. Medical personnel and ambulance crews have been drafted in from nearby provinces to help deal with the influx of wounded, which has overwhelmed the local hospital.
The Kurdish YPG fighters defending the city appear to be putting up a staunch resistance. The UK-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR) reported that IS had sustained heavy losses on Sunday. Mustafa Ebdi, a journalist and activist, from Kobane told VICE News that the remaining fighters defending the city remained defiant. Commanders, he said, had issued an announcement saying that anyone who wished could leave their weapons and cross into Turkey. Not one fighter, he said, did.
The anti-IS coalition has launched a series of airstrikes on IS militants, vehicles and positions around Kobane for days, apparently dealing a huge blow to the jihadists' progress. "If they didn't strike, Kobane would have fallen a long time ago," Ebdi said.
Aircraft from the US, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates attacked IS in three locations in Kobane, US Central Command said on Sunday in a statement.
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