Turkey’s decision to join the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group is an “act of aggression,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said Friday, because in addition to eradicating the militant group, the Turkish government wants to see a regime change in Syria.
According to a Foreign Ministry statement quoted on Syria TV, “The public approach of the Turkish government represents an act of aggression on a country that is a member state of the United Nations.”
Turkey’s Parliament authorized ground forces to combat the militant group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria on Thursday. Of the more than 40 countries that have joined the coalition in some capacity, Turkey is the first to approve boots on the ground. Aside from ground troops, Turkey will allow NATO members to use Turkish military bases as launching pads for attacks and establish a no-fly zone over Syria.
The Syrian government called on the international community and the United Nations to stop Turkey from what it believes will threaten “international and regional peace and security.”
“The international community should take a serious, firm and responsible stance to put an end to Ankara's destructive approach, force it to abide by Security Council resolutions, stop its unlimited funding to armed, terrorist organizations, and stop interfering in Syrian affairs,” Syrian SANA news agency quoted from a letter from the Syrian regime to the United Nations.
Prior to the vote, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hinted that Turkey would not join the coalition if its only goal was to attack ISIS strongholds. Turkey wants a regime change in Syria to be a coalition priority.
“We will continue to prioritize our aim to remove the Syrian regime, to help protect the territorial integrity of Syria, and to encourage a constitutional, parliamentary system that embraces all the citizens in the country,” Erdoğan said Wednesday.
Despite having the second largest army in NATO, Turkey was reluctant to play an active role in the coalition as it viewed Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime as a bigger threat than ISIS. What’s more, ISIS militants were using Turkey’s border to enter Syria and fight a common enemy: the Assad regime.
Critics accused Turkey of helping militants, when the government held “diplomatic and political negotiations” with ISIS that led to the release of 46 Turkish hostages. The Syrian and Turkish Kurdish populations are particularly skeptical of Turkey’s position and separately accused the government of supplying weapons to the militants.
In recent weeks ISIS has made significant advances near the Turkish border that left Turkey with little option but to intervene. Militants are now fighting in the Kurdish city Kobane, and if the city falls, ISIS would control 60 miles of land from its de facto headquarters in Raqqa to the Turkish border. The extra stretch of land would provide new avenues to bring in foreign fighters and weapons and allow militants to enter Turkey with greater ease.
Turkey’s decision to play an active role in the coalition will significantly widen its ability to attack the militants, and Turkey appears confident the operation will also result in ousting Assad.