Turkey open to new deal on British IS fighters found in Syria
8 October 2019, 20:08 | Updated: 9 October 2019, 04:27
Turkey will seek a new way for Britain to deal with its Islamic State (IS) militants and dependants held in Syria if they fall under Turkish control, the ambassador to London has said.
Umit Yalcin said the two countries already have an agreement that enables the deportation of British terrorist suspects seized on Turkish soil back to the UK.
A different "cooperation mechanism" could be devised to deal with anyone linked to IS who came from Britain but is now holed up in camps and detention centres in northern Syria, Mr Yalcin told Sky News in an interview at his embassy.
The comments came as Turkish forces prepared to launch an operation against US-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria after President Donald Trump gave the green light for military action by withdrawing US forces from the targeted area.
The ambassador said the mission would be a success, creating a "safe zone" some 30km (18.6 miles) deep to protect Turkey from what it claims is a terrorist threat posed by Kurdish militias such as the YPG.
The operation is also designed to enable some two million Syrian refugees in Turkey to return to their home country.
But a number of senior British and US politicians have condemned the pullback by President Trump as a "betrayal" of Kurdish forces that were seen as instrumental in the defeat of the Islamic State caliphate.
Mr Yalcin challenged their argument, noting that Turkey is a member of the NATO alliance alongside Britain, the United States and others, so Ankara should be supported in wanting to protect its borders, which are also NATO borders.
"There are some contradictions… in using some concepts - who is ally? Who is terrorist organisation?" he said.
"All these concepts in recent years have been confused.
"We have warned and advised our allies many times in the recent years that eliminating one terrorist group by another terrorist group is wrong and dangerous. We a million times explained the situation. But especially the Americans didn't listen to our warnings and advice."
US policy in northern Syria until now had been to continue to support the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on the ground and work with the Turkish military to conduct joint patrols along the border - trying to calm Turkish and Kurdish nerves at the same time.
That stance was flipped on its head on Sunday night following a conversation between Mr Trump and his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
But by Monday, the US leader had backtracked slightly, using Twitter to warn he would "obliterate" Turkey's economy if Ankara took any action that he considered to be "off limits".
The flip-flopping had had no impact on Turkey's military plans, according to the ambassador.
"Turkey is a big country, a proud country," he said.
"We are not making our policy according to the zig-zagging Twitter messages. We did not plan our operation according to the first message and we did not make any change according to the second one. Our policy is determined for our security concerns."
Asked whether he knew what was "off limits", Mr Yalcin said: "I don't know. Our limit is ensuring our safety, ensuring our national border is safe and saving Syrians from the tyranny of terrorist organisations and creating an environment for the voluntary return of Syrians."
In making way for unilateral Turkish action, the US president also said Turkey would gain responsibility for thousands of Islamic State fighters, including Britons and other Europeans, holed up in detention camps currently guarded by the Kurds.
They would also have to take charge of the many IS-linked women and children also contained in camps.
Mr Yalcin said Turkey would be able to manage this challenge by working with allies.
"If there will be a successful operation and if those areas in which those ISIS terrorists or their families, wives and children are in camps, I think we will handle this issue with our allies in cooperation," he said.
"When they [Islamic State members] were leaving these countries they had their nationalities and passports.
"They became terrorists or maybe some wives and kids were innocent, but those countries should take those people back to their own countries. They can bring them justice and send them to court or rehabilitate them. That is the ideal thing."
Asked if he had spoken to Britain on this issue, the ambassador said he had not since the possibility of a Turkish military operation was announced.
But he raised the idea of London and Ankara reaching an arrangement on how to handle British detainees in Syria, just as the two countries had created a framework for dealing with British suspects detained in Turkey.
"If these foreign terrorist fighters are in Turkey, they [Britain] are providing consular service to them and according to that declaration of intent, if those terrorist are in Turkey we can deport them.
"Also, they have a commitment to prevent those fighters to leave the country," he said.
"We have a cooperation mechanism if those terrorists are in Turkey. I think we can be creative and find some new mechanisms of cooperation [in Syria]."
Britain has until now resisted demands from the United States to take responsibility for IS militants caught in Syria who have British passports and those whose British citizenship has been revoked.
However, cabinet ministers are divided on whether or not to deploy special forces to the camps at least to bring the children of IS members back to the UK.
(c) Sky News 2019: Turkey open to new deal on British IS fighters found in Syria