Turkey to deploy US rocket system on Syrian border in fight against ISIS

A High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) fires a projectile in a joint military exercise at Crow Valley in Philippines, on April 14, 2016.
A High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) fires a projectile in a joint military exercise at Crow Valley in Philippines, on April 14, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

ANKARA (AFP) - Turkey has struck a deal with the United States to deploy American light multiple rocket launchers on its border with Syria to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to the Foreign Ministry.

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) "will be deployed on the Turkish border in May as part of an agreement" with Washington, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview published on Tuesday (April 26).

The system is being brought in "so we will be able to hit Daesh targets more effectively," he told the Haberturk newspaper, using an acronym for ISIS.

Turkey, a member of US-led coalition against ISIS, has increased its strikes in Syria after a series of deadly attacks on its soil blamed on the militants.

Ankara also allows US jets to use its air base in southern Turkey for air bombardments on the extremist group.

In recent weeks, the Turkish border town of Kilis has come under frequent rocket attack from Syria, prompting the army to respond with howitzer fire.

The rockets fired from IS-held territory into Turkey have killed 17 people and wounded 61 since Jan 18, sparking protests in a town already under pressure as the only place where Syrian refugees now outnumber Turkish locals.

Cavusoglu said HIMARS would allow Turkey to hit ISIS positions within a 90km range, while Turkish artillery has a more limited range of 40km.

The aim is to gain control of the so-called Manbij Gap, a backdoor border route favoured by ISIS for smuggling militants into and out of Syria.

Turkey wants to establish a safe zone in the 98km stretch between Manbij and the border in which to shelter Syrian refugees, the foreign minister said.

Ankara has long pressed for the creation of safe zones in the war-torn country. German Chancellor Angela Merkel this weekend said the zones were "of the utmost immediate importance also in our negotiations for a ceasefire" in Syria.

But Washington is set against the idea, saying it would require a no-fly zone, something that could lead to conflicts with Russian planes flying over Syria.

"As a practical matter, sadly, it is very difficult to see how it would operate short of us essentially being willing to militarily take over a big chunk of that country," US President Barack Obama said during a visit to Germany at the weekend.

Turkey's Cabinet on Monday discussed additional measures to protect the border town of Kilis from rocket fire, with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu saying Ankara would increase its military presence there and bring in extra drones.

"With additional drones, the border will be monitored and attacks will be known beforehand and stopped," he told Parliament on Tuesday.

"We will repond immediately to those who launch attacks against Turkey," he said. "Every step will be taken."