No military support as NATO offers Turkey only solidarity

By: AFP      Published: 05:35 PM, 28 Feb, 2020
No military support as NATO offers Turkey only solidarity
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gives a press conference in Brussels as NATO's ruling council will meet for urgent talks on the Syria crisis after at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike blamed on Damascus. AFP

NATO on Friday offered solidarity and support to Ankara after at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in Syria -- but no pledges of concrete new measures to defend Turkey's forces.

The alliance's ruling council held urgent talks at Turkey's request after the air strike in Syria's northwestern Idlib province sent tensions soaring.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said allies had agreed to maintain measures already in place to bolster Turkey's air defences. But he gave no hint of new steps beyond a general pledge to see what more could be done.

"NATO allies provide support for Turkey today. We augment their air defences, we have an AWACS plane helping to patrol the skies and we also have port visits and provide support in other ways," he said. "But allies are constantly looking into what more they can do to provide further support for Turkey."

A spokesman for the Turkish presidency earlier called for a no-fly zone to protect civilians in Idlib, where President Bashar al-Assad is seeking to wipe out the last rebel stronghold. Assad's forces backed by Russian air strikes have since December clawed back chunks of the Idlib region, forcing close to a million people to flee their homes and shelters. Stoltenberg condemned Damascus and Moscow and urged them to end the violence in Idlib.

'Stop the attacks'

"We call on Russia and the Assad regime to stop the attacks, to stop the indiscriminate air attacks and also to engage and support UN-led efforts to find a lasting, political, peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria," he said.

NATO called the meeting on Friday under Article 4 of the alliance's charter under which any member can request talks if they believe their "territorial integrity, political independence or security" is threatened.  It is distinct from the alliance's Article 5 mutual self-defence pact, which refers to an attack on any members' territory.

The losses in Idlib come after weeks of growing tensions between Ankara and Damascus-ally Moscow. They bring to 53 the number of Turkish security personnel killed in the province this month. Ankara has called talks under Article 4 a number of times in recent years -- twice in 2012, including after one of its jets was shot down by Syrian forces, and once in 2015 after a spate of terrorist attacks in Turkey.

After the 2012 incidents NATO agreed to deploy Patriot missile batteries in Turkey as a defensive measure.