Russia and Turkey are preparing for a military confrontation along Syria’s border with Turkey.
According to intelligence sources in the United States, Russia has dispatched engineers to the northeastern city of Qamishli on the border. In late October, according to Syria Direct, the Qamishli International Airport was closed to civilian air traffic and turned over to the Syrian military.
On Friday the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights quoted sources in Syria as saying 200 Russian personnel will fortify the airfield in Qamishli and ready it for military aircraft.
— The Turkish Sun (@TheTurkishSun) January 21, 2016
The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet also reported the presence of Russian engineers.
Also on Friday The Australian reported the US has established a secret airbase 30 miles outside of Qamishli. Syrian activists reported several dozen US military personnel are busy setting up a base at a former agricultural airfield a few miles from the Iraqi and Turkish borders.
“The airfield has been reconstructed and now has one airstrip for the American helicopters and a command centre,” Abu Jad Haskawi, a Syrian activist based in the nearby town of Hasakah, told the newspaper.
Turkey is currently busy preparing the border in preparation for a military operation against Kurdish forces in Syria. Ankara says it is stepping up maneuvers against the Islamic State, but this appears to be a cover for a strike against the Kurds.
In recent months evidence has emerged showing Turkish support for IS. Turkey has long considered Kurdish militias terrorists. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated his country believes various Kurdish factions in Syria and Turkey are equal to the danger posed by ISIS.
— Sputnik (@SputnikInt) January 21, 2016
“Turkish forces began clearing minefields along the Syrian border this week in an area north of Aleppo where it has previously spoken of establishing a ‘safe zone.’ Removing minefields is often an indicator that a ground intervention is imminent,” the Australian reports.
Turkey is also digging trenches in its declared buffer zone on the border.
On Tuesday Infowars.com reported Turkish troops and military equipment crossed the border and entered Syria through the town of Jarablus. An unconfirmed report added that Turkey had moved a thousand soldiers to the Syrian side of the border.
Turkey has declared it will not tolerate the presence of Russian troops along the border.
“We have said this from the beginning: we won’t tolerate such formations (in northern Syria) along the area stretching from the Iraqi border up to the Mediterranean,” Erdogan said on Friday following Friday prayers in Istanbul.
“We maintain our sensitivities on this issue,” added Erdogan, citing the reported presence of Russian engineers.
Russia is also positioned to Turkey’s north along the Black Sea. In December tension was heightened when Turkish maritime authorities detained 27 Russian ships on the country’s ports on Black Sea in retaliation for the seizure of eight Turkish-flagged ships at Russian ports.
Turkey has stood by while Russia in coordination with the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) have moved back into the northern Latakia Province. SANA, the Syrian government news agency, reported the SAA had wrested control of seven towns controlled by al-Nusra and the jihadists and is moving on the strategic town of Rabi’a, a main jihadi bastion north of Latakia, near Turkey.
Al-Manar reported on Saturday as well that the SAA has made advances in Damascus, Aleppo, and Daraa, and inflicted significant losses on jihadi groups, including the Islamic State and al-Nusra.
On Saturday the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed Russian soldiers are fighting alongside Syrian government forces in the province.
If true, this represents a new development in the conflict.
On Saturday Vice President Joe Biden said the United States is prepared for a military solution in Syria if a political settlement fails.
“We do know it would better if we can reach a political solution but we are prepared… if that’s not possible, to have a military solution to this operation in taking out Daesh,” Biden said at a news conference after a meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Biden and Davutoglu also discussed how the NATO coalition might further assist jihadist proxies trying to overthrow the government.