The U.S. has gained a crucial new ally in the coalition for its campaign against Islamic State militants, after Turkey’s parliament gave its OK to military action in Iraq and Syria late Thursday.
Parliament voted 298-98 in favor of the motion which sets the legal framework for any Turkish military involvement in the two countries, and for the potential use of Turkish bases by foreign troops, the Associated Press reported.
The vote is a major boost for the White House, which has been desperate to bring as many muslim countries as possible into the campaign and reduce the risk of its actions being styled by the Islamic world as a new anti-muslim adventure by an imperialist western power.
Turkey is critical to the U.S.-led coalition because of its southern border is directly next to some of the the areas of Syria and Iraq controlled by I.S.. It has yet to say precisely what role it intends to play in the conflict, but President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkish troops could be used to help set up a secure zone for refugees in Syria, if there was an international agreement to establish such a haven.
The U.S. and the Iraqi government see the Kurdish population as a bulwark against I.S., but it has lost ground in recent days despite support from U.S.-led airstrikes.
Turkey’s decision to approve military action came against a background of reports that I.S. fighters were about to capture the strategic town of Ayn al-Arab, also known as Kobane, close to the Syrian-Turkish border. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted by Al-Arabiya Thursday as saying Turkey would do “whatever we can” to stop I.S. taking Kobane. Social media suggested that I.S. continued to shell the town with artillery and rockets Friday.
Hostile to both I.S. and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, Turkey is also wary about the Kurds’ own aspirations to statehood. The country has itself a large Kurdish population and fought a long war with the PKK, an armed Kurdish separatist group, that only ended last year. Tensions have remained high since then.