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Saudi Warplanes Land in Turkey for IS Mission

Four Saudi warplanes landed at Incirlik military base in Turkey on Friday to join the U.S-led Western coalition aerial raids against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, Turkish officials and news reports say.

VOA reporter Tan Cetin was near the Turkish airbase and confirmed the arrival of the Saudi warplanes as they landed in the morning.

This came as a U.S.-Russian-brokered cease-fire unfolded in Syria. The cease-fire does not pertain to coalition forces bombing IS and other terrorist targets, and a cessation in the Syrian civil war could lead to a new coalition strategy against IS in Syria and Iraq, analysts say.

The Saudi government has not confirmed the arrival of the F-15 jet fighters at the Turkish base. But analysts in the kingdom say Riyadh wants to see how the Syrian cease-fire works out on the ground.

“The manifestation of the cease-fire would have a great impact on how Saudi Arabia and its allies go about their Syria policy,” a local analyst in Saudi Arabia told VOA, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters Thursday that Saudi warplanes would arrive on Friday, adding that Saudi ground troops have also been deployed to Turkey.

Both countries had hinted at the possibility of deploying ground troops to Syria, but observers say the cease-fire has put those prospects on hold.

Complications for US

While the Saudi planes are joining the U.S.-led coalition, Saudi Arabia is siding with Ankara in its diplomatic dispute with Washington over U.S. support of Kurdish forces in Syria. Ankara sees the Kurdish forces as a threat to Turkey and wants Washington to stop U.S. support.

Analysts say the arrival of Saudi military into the conflict zone adds new complications for Washington.

“[This] is a message to the U.S. especially,” said Bulent Aliriza, director of Turkey program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
“What Saudis are saying in fact is that they are in solidarity with Turkey,” he told VOA. “They will not let Washington or anybody else impose any solution that they think is unacceptable.”

Saudi Arabia has recently resumed its involvement in the international campaign against IS. And U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Thursday welcomed Riyadh’s commitment to expand its role in the war on terror.

The U.S.-led coalition has effectively used the base to launch attacks on IS militants in Syria. The airstrikes have helped Syrian Kurdish forces to make advances against the terror group in Syria.

Turkish officials have threatened to close the airbase amidst disagreements with Washington over the U.S. alliance with Syrian Kurds.

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