Nato ready to ‘defend’ Turkey as Russia strikes Syria
Nato ready to ‘defend’ Turkey as Russia strikes Syria –
The Guardian – Nato is ready to send troops to Turkey to defend against threats on its southern flank, the head of the alliance has said following violations of Turkish airspace by Russian jets conducting airstrikes in Syria.
Moscow’s growing military involvement in the Syria conflict – which on Wednesday involved its jets backing an offensive by ground troops loyal to the president, Bashar al-Assad – is expected to be high on the agenda of a meeting of the alliance’s defence ministers.
“Nato is ready and able to defend all allies, including Turkey against any threats,” Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general, told reporters before the Brussels meeting on Thursday.
“Nato has already responded by increasing our capacity, our ability, our preparedness to deploy forces including to the south, including in Turkey.”
The ground offensive backed by Russian airstrikes was an escalation in Moscow’s week-long campaign, which had previously been restricted to bombing runs to soften up rebel positions near major loyalist strongholds.
Syria’s chief-of-staff, Gen Ali Ayoub, on Thursday declared that a wide-ranging ground offensive by Syrian troops was under way that he said had been facilitated by Russian airstrikes.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ground forces loyal to the government targeted insurgents in the Ghab plain, with heavy barrages of surface-to-surface missiles as Russian warplanes bombed from above. It also said rebels had shot down a helicopter in Hama province in western Syria. It was unclear if it was Syrian or Russian.
The Ghab plain lies next to a mountain range that forms the heartland of Assad’s Alawite sect. Recapturing it from an alliance of rebel groups that includes al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s wing in Syria, would help secure Assad’s coastal heartlands and could provide a platform to drive the rebels back from other areas.
Most of Wednesday’s fighting appeared to be concentrated in Hama, a central province with a majority Sunni capital that has remained in the hands of the regime since the start of the war. It is key to Assad’s strategy of cementing control over major population centres in a strip of territory from Latakia, in the north, through to Homs, Hama and Damascus.
Russia’s air campaign in Syria has caught the US and its allies on the back foot and alarmed Syria’s northern neighbour Turkey, which says its airspace has been repeatedly violated by Russian jets.
On Thursday, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, warned Russia that its military action in Syria is endangering trade ties. Erdoğan said Ankara could look elsewhere for gas supplies and cancel the construction of its first nuclear power plant, which is being built by Russia.Russia supplies 60% of Turkey’s gas needs.
On Wednesday, Turkey summoned Russia’s ambassador for the third time in four days over the reported airspace violations, which Nato has said appeared to be deliberate and were extremely dangerous.
Turkey said Syria-based missile systems harassed its warplanes on Tuesday while eight F-16 jets were on a patrol flight along the Syrian border. The Russian ministry of defence said it was continuing to consult with Turkey to ensure there would be no repetition of the incident.