US to deploy high-mobility rocket system to Turkey-Syria border – Ankara

A U.S. military fires a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) © Erik De Castro
The US plans to deploy its High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) to Turkey to help fight Islamic State in Syria, Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu has told local media. The deployment is part of an agreement to seal off the bordering Manbji region.

The border region has been increasingly targeted by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in rocket attacks, according to Ankara.

We have come to an agreement with the US regarding closing down the Manbij area,” the Turkish foreign minister told the Haberturk newspaper while visiting Saudi Arabia.

"As part of this deal, HIMARS systems will be arriving in Turkey's borders in May. Therefore we will be able to hit Islamic State in a more efficient way," he added, explaining that the current range of Turkish top-of-the-line rockets is only 40km, while America’s ground-based HIMARS can reach 90km.

This will enable Turkey to help the Syrian opposition on the ground too. "To wipe out Islamic State from this region, we need to support the moderate opposition both from the air and ground,” he noted.

Cavusoglu blames the West for being late to the table on creating a safe zone. “To eradicate Daesh [Arabic pejorative for IS] from this area, the opposition must be empowered. In fact, if the armed conflict in Syria stops, it could be possible to assign more forces to fight against Daesh. We have to support the moderate opposition,” he said.

The HIMARS is a light multiple rocket launcher mounted on a truck frame and carrying six rockets.

The FM also lambasted the US for continuing support of the Kurdish fighters of the People's Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey is sharply against but which is believed to be one of the main forces on the ground fighting IS.

Asked if American offers of reconciliation with the YPG have a chance, the Turkish FM said: “Instead of proposing to us to relaunch negotiations, those countries should consider whether they can guarantee the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK] will lay down its arms or not.” The Turkish government considers the PKK a terrorist organization.

Some doubt Turkey’s aspirations with regard to the idea of a safe zone. Military expert Vladimir Evseev told RIA that Ankara is interested in the measure in order to annex a part of Syria.

Turkey’s been at it for a while now with the safety zone. It is clear as day they’re not interested in creating one, but basically [want to] occupy part of Syria using the excuse. Their motives here are absolutely clear,” Evseev said, adding that the US would hardly supply Turkey with the HIMARS without US personnel in tow.

“I think this will be an American-controlled deployment, it will be US personnel. The US would like to both satisfy the Turks and not aggravate the situation at the same time,” he added. The rationale for this, according to Evseev, is “to simultaneously make good on the promise to protect Turkey, but to also prevent it from using the systems without US permission.”

The Turks, for their part, are only really interested in the HIMARS “to use it against peaceful civilians” – namely the Kurds. “But it’s not the kind of weapon at all the Americans would just hand over.”