Turkey to use US rocket system in fight against IS group

AFP , Tuesday 26 Apr 2016

Turkey has struck a deal with the United States to deploy American light multiple rocket launchers on its border with Syria to combat the Islamic State group (IS), according to the foreign ministry.

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) "will be deployed on the Turkish border in May as part of an agreement" with Washington, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview published Tuesday.

The system is being brought in "so we will be able to hit Daesh targets more effectively," he told the Haberturk newspaper, using an acronym for IS group.

Turkey, a member of US-led coalition against the IS group, has increased its strikes in Syria after a series of deadly attacks on its soil blamed on the militants.

Ankara also allows US jets to use its air base in southern Turkey for air bombardments on the extremist group.

In recent weeks, the Turkish border town of Kilis has come under frequent rocket attack from Syria, prompting the army to respond with howitzer fire.

The rockets fired from IS group-held territory into Turkey have killed 17 people and wounded 61 since January 18, sparking protests in a town already under pressure as the only place where Syrian refugees now outnumber Turkish locals.

Cavusoglu said HIMARS would allow Turkey to hit IS group positions within a 90-kilometre (56 mile) range, while Turkish artillery has a more limited range of 40 kilometres.

The aim is to gain control of the so-called Manbij Gap, a backdoor border route favoured by IS group for smuggling militants into and out of Syria.

Turkey wants to establish a safe zone in the 98 kilometre stretch between Manbij and the border in which to shelter Syrian refugees, the foreign minister said.

Ankara has long pressed for the creation of safe zones in the war-torn country. German Chancellor Angela Merkel this weekend said the zones were "of the utmost immediate importance also in our negotiations for a ceasefire" in Syria.

But Washington is set against the idea, saying it would require a no-fly zone, something that could lead to conflicts with Russian planes flying over Syria.

"As a practical matter, sadly, it is very difficult to see how it would operate short of us essentially being willing to militarily take over a big chunk of that country," US President Barack Obama said during a visit to Germany at the weekend.

Turkey's cabinet on Monday discussed additional measures to protect the border town of Kilis from rocket fire, with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu saying Ankara would increase its military presence there and bring in extra drones.

"With additional drones, the border will be monitored and attacks will be known beforehand and stopped," he told parliament on Tuesday.

"We will repond immediately to those who launch attacks against Turkey," he said. "Every step will be taken."

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