Saudi Arabia is sending planes to the İncirlik Air Base in the southern Turkish province of Adana, where jets from the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition are already based, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has stated, amid reports on Feb. 14 that the jets have already arrived.
“The Saudi kingdom now has a presence at the İncirlik base in Turkey,” Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri was quoted as saying by the Al-Arabiya TV station late on Feb. 13.
“Saudi warplanes are present with their crews to intensify aerial operations along with missions launched from bases in Saudi Arabia,” al-Assiri said, without going into further details.
However, Turkish military sources denied the arrival of Saudi warplanes.
Military sources told daily Hürriyet that Saudi warplanes had not arrived at İncirlik, adding that the timeframe of the Saudi jets’ arrival would extend to two or three weeks.
Cavuşoğlu said on Feb. 13 that Saudi jets would be deployed at Incirlik and the two countries could participate in ground operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria.
“They [Saudi officials] came and did a reconnaissance of the base. At the moment it is not clear how many planes will come,” he said, adding that they do not yet have a certain plan for a land operation.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia have long advocated in favor of a ground operation in Syria but no concrete decision has been taken for such an operation, Çavuşoğlu said.
“This is not an issue for Turkey or Saudi Arabia alone, we have been saying that the coalition should be doing this,” Çavuşoğlu said when asked about reports of a possible ground operation against ISIL by Turkey and Saudi Arabia in Syria.
“But there is no solid decision on this yet, no concrete strategy. This is not a new idea, but as of today there is no final decision regarding a ground operation,” he added.
Riyadh and Ankara are both opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose foreign minister last week warned that any ground intervention would “amount to aggression that must be resisted.”
Al-Assiri said the decision to deploy an unspecified number of jets to Turkey followed a meeting in Brussels of U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition members, who decided step up their fight against jihadists in Syria and Iraq. He stressed that Saudi Arabia made its decision in coordination with the coalition and a ground operation was being planned.
“There is a consensus among coalition forces on the need for ground operations and the Kingdom is committed to that,” al-Assiri said.
“Military experts will meet in the coming days to finalize the details, the task force and the role to be played by each country,” he added.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir also told reporters on Feb. 14 that his country was ready to send special forces to Syria to take part in ground operations against ISIL, without giving further details.