U.S. seeks bigger Turkish role in fight against ISIS

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says Turkey has military capabilities that would be valuable in the fight against ISIS

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The United States would like to have access of Turkey’s air base at Incirlik and an agreement to help train and equip the moderate Syrian forces, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

Hagel said U.S. officials are raising those issues with Turkish leaders in discussions this week.

While Ankara's persistent request for the U.S. to set up a safe zone along Turkey’s border with Syria is not “actively being considered,” he said, American leaders are open to a discussion about it.

The defense secretary said Turkey has military capabilities that would be valuable in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants. The U.S. would like to be able to base various aircraft at the air base near the Syrian border, he said.

Hagel spoke to reporters on his plane as he began a six-day, three-country trip to South America. His first stop is Colombia, and he will also go to Chile and Peru, where he will attend a conference of defense ministers from the Americas.

His trip comes as the U.S. works with coalition partners to slow the advances of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and as the U.S. military ramps up its troop deployments to Liberia to build medical facilities and help in the fight against Ebola.

Meanwhile, two top U.S. envoys met Thursday in Ankara with Turkish leaders seeking to win their NATO ally’s support to defeat ISIS.

Although State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki did not outline any specific commitments made by Turkey, she said the two countries held “detailed and constructive talks.”

Retired general John Allen and U.S. pointman on Iraq, Brett McGurk, had “discussed several measures to advance the military line of effort against ISIS,” Psaki said.

She highlighted that “a joint military planning team will visit Ankara early next week to follow up in military-to-military channels.”

“Both sides also agreed that we will continue a dynamic and deepening bilateral consultation process across the multiple lines of effort against ISIS,” which included military support as well as battling foreign fighters and choking off funds to ISIS.

The two U.S. officials had “emphasized that urgent steps are immediately required to degrade ISIS’ military capabilities and ongoing ability to threaten the region,” Psaki said in a statement.

The crisis has been deepened by the battle for the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, just across the border with Turkey, amid fears it may soon fall into the militants’ hands.

Psaki insisted earlier: “It’s not a situation where we are making demands.”

“We are having a discussion with Turkey that’s been ongoing, but certainly will continue today about what role they’re willing to play in the coalition efforts."

But, she acknowledged, “there is no question that Turkey is well-positioned to contribute.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu however said earlier that Ankara could not be expected to act alone.

“It’s not realistic to expect that Turkey will lead a ground operation on its own,” he said.

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