TSK set to receive first T-129s

T-129 ATAK Helicopter

The Turkish Land Forces is on the verge of taking delivery of their first T-129 ATAK attack helicopters as the production of the aircraft gathers momentum.

Speaking at the IDEF exhibition in 2013, company representatives stated that the army is expected to take delivery of its first aircraft in the coming weeks.

Four T-129A aircraft are now ready to be formally handed over to the army and will be used to train the initial batch of pilots and maintenance staff. In addition to these first four, three production aircraft are currently undergoing factory acceptance tests.

Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), the programme’s prime contractor that is assembling the aircraft, has increased production to one aircraft per month, which will be the ongoing rate through until deliveries of the 59 aircraft are completed in 2018.

Company representatives also revealed that TAI is looking at future upgrades of the aircraft, potentially including the installation of a millimetre wave radar and development of a manned-unmanned teaming capability.

Two prototypes have been manufactured and will be used to investigate the various upgrade options. In total, the programme has now done more than 2500 flight hours.

The initial deliveries will be of the T-129, which is described as a combat support aircraft and includes rockets, guns and integrated electronic warfare suite.

Development continues on the ATAK standard configuration, designated as the T-29B and includes integration of the Cirit and UMTAS missiles. The first T-129B will start qualification tests in mid-2013 – tests of the IR-guided UMTAS are scheduled to take place in July – and full production of the fully capable version is expected to start in 2014.

With the ATAK now the baseline for all future international sales of the A-129, AgustaWestland and TAI have developed a mechanism for the joint marketing of the aircraft and any specific sales drives.

While TAI took the lead for the recent campaign in South Korea, an effort that saw the T-129 lose out to the AH-64E Apache, which company takes the lead role in the future will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Meanwhile, with the Italian MoD currently carrying out preliminary studies to determine the future upgrade of its A-129 fleet, an AgustaWestland spokesman said the company’s approach would be to offer new aircraft rather than developing retrofit options to bring the fleet up to T-129B standard.

Shephard Media

Defence Innovations from Turkey

Otokar’s COBRA 2

Turkey has a vibrant and increasingly capable defence industry that is determined to boost its export earnings up to $2 billion a year, a goal that the Defence and Aerospace Industry Exporters Association says is well within reach.

Broadly based and innovative, its products include aircraft, land vehicles, warships, weapon systems ranging from small arms to guided missiles, C4ISR systems, RF and EO and electronic warfare systems. Other efforts are focused on logistics and support systems and services. A large home market and government policy to build a rounded indigenous industry underpins all of them.

Policy Evolution

Evolution in the country’s defence procurement has progressed in four distinct stages. Before 1990, the policy for major platforms and weapon systems was essentially one of direct procurement. The next decade focused on coproduction of systems, such as armoured combat vehicles, light transport aircraft, the COUGAR battlefield helicopter, mobile radar systems and High Frequency Single Side Band (HF SSB) radios. The first decade of the 21st Century saw growing confidence manifest itself in local design of big-ticket items such as the ALTAY MBT, the MILGEM National Corvette, the ANKA MALE UAV, and the HURKUS training aircraft.

Under the guidance of the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM), the industry today is also engaged in several other ambitious development programmes including the NEB bunker buster bomb, the TOROS truck based rocket artillery system, the GÖKTÜRK reconnaissance and surveillance satellite, the 105mm air transportable light towed howitzer project, the GPS/INS based HGK guidance kit for 2,000lbs bombs, the KGK wing adapter kit for long range smart bombs, plus smaller yet still vital items, such as thermal batteries for munitions.

Projects under contract to the SSM for the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) has grown over the last decade or so from $5,448 billion to $25,397 billion in 2012, although it peaked at around $27 billion in 2011. The total turnover of the defence and aviation sectors has grown strongly from around $1,855 billion in 2006 to $4,381 billion in 2011.

Growing Local Content

Local content in TAF projects is also growing steadily from 25% in 2003 to 54% in 2011, which is the last year for which the SSM has released figures. Alongside this figure, possibly not coincidentally, defence and aviation exports have grown from $331 million to $1.09 billion over the same period.

Today, co-production dominates the SSM project budget, taking 53%, while development takes 27%. Direct procurements still take a substantial share at 11%, engagement with international consortia taking 8% and R&D one percent. Major co-production projects include several F-16 efforts and the T129 attack helicopter programme, in which Turkish weapons and avionics will be integrated into the AgustaWestland A129 MANGUSTA airframe.

Turkish Land Systems Innovation

Turkey’s armoured vehicle sector is particularly strong, with four companies able to design, develop, produce, test and qualify them. These companies, Otokar, FNSS, BMC, and Nurol, dominate the home military and security vehicle market.

ALTAY and MBT Upgrades

SSM’s biggest development project is the ALTAY MBT. The Turkish government describes ALTAY as a “Generation 3 Plus” MBT. The programme was launched in 2008 with Otokar as prime contractor. The conceptual design was completed and approved by the SSM in September of 2010, giving the green light to the detailed design phase. ALTAY has successfully come through its critical design review and two prototypes have been built, the first having completed its mobility trials and the second now undergoing firepower testing, with two more set to be produced during 2013 for qualification testing. The declared budget for these stages, according to the SSM, is $500 million.

Levent Senel, Head of SSM’s Land Platforms Department, said in February that the tank will be ready for serial production by 2015, but that is not anticipated to begin until 2017 or 2018. Plans call for an initial production run of 250, which may be increased.

ALTAY ticks all the boxes to be a thoroughly modern MBT in the western idiom, its four-person crew dictated by the choice of manual loading for the 120mm L55 smoothbore main gun, which occupies an electrically driven turret. This weapon is one of the vehicle’s technological imports, the know-how having been transferred from Korea’s Hyundai Rotem, although the gun that arms the ROK’s K2 has an autoloader, reducing that MBT’s crew to three. Drawing on Russian practice, however, the gun can be used as a launcher for laser guided missiles.

The new-generation fire control system, with hunter/killer functionality, plus the C3 systems are designed and built by Aselsan. Integrated with it will be a battlefield target identification system.

Supplementing the main armament will be a Remotely Controlled Weapon Station (RCWS) able to mount both 7.62mm and 12.7mm machine guns, in addition to the 7.62mm coaxial machine gun.

The first production ALTAYs will be fitted with a 1,500hp engine from MTU coupled to a transmission from Renk, but later vehicles are slated to receive a 1,800hp diesel designed and manufactured in Turkey. Automotive R&D organization OTAM, which is associated with Istanbul University, is responsible for design studies intended to lead to the first prototype ‘national tank engine’ and is working with other R&D entities and with Turkish engine manufacturers. ALTAY also has that other modern tank essential – an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU).

Better known for its rocket and missile expertise, Roketsan is responsible for ALTAY’s modular composite armour package, which it is developing in its Ballistic Protection Center, the focus of its armour systems infrastructure personnel. The company has expertise in light and heavy composite armour for vehicles, ceramic and hybrid armour, design, development and production facilities for reactive armour and ballistic testing.

A laser warning system, standard on all modern MBTs, will be one contributor to a 360° situational awareness system that will include front and rear thermal and day TV cameras for the driver, who also gets an integrated display.

Helping protect the crew in the event that the tank takes a hit, is a combined fire extinguishing and explosion suppression system, with the life support system combining air conditioning with CBRN protection.

New Wheeled AFVs

As well as new and upgraded MBTs, Otokar also develops wheeled armoured vehicles, a sector in which it competes with both FNSS and Nurol.

Otokar and FNSS go head-to-head in the large 6×6 and 8×8 sectors with their respective and directly comparable ARMA and PARS vehicles, both of which are offered in both configurations and both have combat weights (for the 6×6 versions) between 18 and 18.5 tonnes. Nurol competes with both in the 6×6 sector and has had considerable success in the export market with its EJDER.

Otokar’s ARMA is a multi-purpose wheeled armoured vehicle designed to be flexible enough to be used with a variety of mission equipment and weapon systems. The FNSS PARS 8×8 AFV was shown for the first time in February 2005 during IDEX. As well as meeting the Turkish Land Forces Command (TLFC) requirements for a wheeled APC, the PARS family of wheeled AFV is also being aimed at the export market. In 2010, FNSS has signed an LoI for Malaysia’s 8×8 Armoured Vehicles Programme for 8×8 PARS vehicles to be manufactured locally in Malaysia. The total weight of the Pars vehicle depends on the weapon fit, crew and armour package. The 8×8 model has a typical combat weight of 25 tonnes. According to FNSS, the PARS is a new family of wheeled AFVs that incorporates numerous advanced, unique features. As the vehicle has an open electronics architecture, it is claimed that inserting new technology can be achieved more easily as it becomes available. The baseline 8 × 8 Pars vehicle has a hull consisting of a composite aluminum and steel armour that provides the occupants with protection from 7.62 mm armour-piercing attack through a full 360°. Higher levels of protection are available if required, using an appliqué armour package.

Innovation and R&D

Otokar displayed some of its expanding range of vehicles at February’s IDEX event in Abu Dhabi, where the company’s General Manager Serdar Gorguc emphasised, “R&D is one of our most important assets. Today Otokar is in leading position in designing and producing armoured combat vehicles and in due course making significant investments on the R&D studies. Reinvesting 5% of our turnover on R&D activities is the actual assurance of Otokar commitments in developing new vehicles.“

FNSS’ PARS 6×6 has a mid-mounted 482hp diesel engine driving three axles through an automatic transmission. The first and third axles are steerable. Suspension is independent all round and can use either hydraulic or air shock absorbers.

All PARS variants feature a removable roof to facilitate different equipment fits for role changes. Other features include a hydraulic rear ramp, water jets to clean the wheels and tires of possible CBRN contamination, central tire inflation, an IR suppressing exhaust cooling system, panoramic glass periscopes, a hydraulic trim vane for amphibious operations and a self-recovery winch and an APU.

Turkey’s third 6×6 armoured vehicle is Nurol’s EJDER, which is not operated by Turkey but has entered service in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Libya, Turkmenistan, and Zimbabwe.

Nurol emphasizes EJDER’s IED protection, saying that the vehicle protects its 12 occupants to NATO standards using real mines, crash test dummies and special test equipment. The vehicle can also accept modular add-on armour packages. Nurol also stresses internal ergonomics and space that enable soldiers to carry all the weapons and ammunition they need. All-wheel drive, independent suspension and a high power-to-weight ratio contribute to what the company claims is ‘superior’ off road performance, supplemented by the ability to enter water without needing preparation. EJDER can also be carried in a C-130, says Nurol.

Engineering vehicles FNSS also offers upgrades of the venerable M113 tracked armoured vehicle and is undertaking such a project for Saudi Arabia, as well as heavier specialist systems such as its Armoured Amphibious Assault Bridge (AAAB) and the Armoured Amphibious Combat Earth mover (AACE), a two-crew vehicle based on theM9 ACE.

The AAAB is a major SSM procurement project for 52 vehicles, half of which have been delivered with the other half set to be delivered this year. Offering ballistic protection (including transparent armour) and NBC protection for the crew compartment, each vehicle carries four ramps, removing the need for an additional ramp carrier vehicle.

In ferry mode, AAAB can be configured with two bays, enabling it to carry tracked vehicles with a NATO Military Load Capacity (MLC) rating of 70. It can also be configured with three bays, which allows it to carry wheeled vehicles with an MLC of up to 100. Two AAAB vehicles together can ferry an MBT. By linking 12 vehicles together, the system can create a 153.7 m bridge.

An 8×8 with all-wheel steering, it is also fitted with a crane and an emergency anchoring system and a self-recovery winch.

Competing MRAPs

Otokar’s KAYA is a 10-seat V-hulled 4×4 based on a Mercedes UNIMOG chassis and offers a large internal volume to maximize mission flexibility. KAYA combines high levels of protection from mines and ballistic threats with high mobility and manoeuvrability over rough terrain and in extreme climates, aided by a CTIS and air conditioning. Otokar offers KAYA in APC, C2, reconnaissance, CBRN recce, medevac and maintenance support variants. KAYA is also available as a mine protected cargo carrier based on the UNIMOG 5000 chassis, which can carry 4.5t for a gross vehicle weight of 12.5 tonnes. Its Mercedes OM 924 LA diesel engine produces 218hp at 2,200rpm and 810nm of torque between 1,200 and 1,600rpm and drives through a Tiptronic electro-pneumatic gearbox to locking differentials on both axles, giving the MRAP a top speed that’s limited to 100kph.

Offered for the same set of missions as the KAYA, the larger KALE MRAP will seat up to 13 people and is powered by a 300hp diesel engine with automatic transmission. The suspension is independent and uses helical spring/shock absorber units.

Otokar’s MRAP designs draw on experience gained in the development and fielding of the COBRA multi-purpose light armoured vehicle, which has proved its worth in several conflict zones and is in service with around 20 users in more than 10 countries, according to SSM.

The other Turkish vehicle maker to enter the MRAP arena is BMC, a major supplier of tactical trucks, logistic support and special purpose vehicles to the Turkish Land Forces. The KIPRI is a 16t selectable 4×4 with seating for up to 13 people including the driver, commander, gunner and 10 fully armed soldiers. KIPRI’s 350hp Cummins diesel generates 1,550nm of torque at 1,400rpm through an automatic transmission and a transfer case that enables the driver to choose either two-wheel drive or four wheel drive and either high or low ranges. The axles incorporate planetary reduction gears and feature differential locks front and rear and are suspended on leaf springs and telescopic shocks. At combat weight, KIPRI will climb a 60% gradient and cope with a 30% side slope and offers a range of 800 km. The standard tactical specification includes a cold-start kit, blackout and camouflage lighting, rail transportability and a NATO standard towing hook, along with electrical and pneumatic connections for towing and being towed. Air conditioning with heating and cooling capability and a windscreen defroster are also standard. KIPRI also features a 360° rotating roof hatch that can support a machine gun mount. There is also a long list of options for KIPRI, which includes a self-recovery winch, ABS braking, a CTIS, run-flat tyres, GPS, a rear view camera, automatic fire suppression and a powered turret drive.

Guided Weapons

Guided weapons development is another key area for Turkey and one of its most ambitious projects is the air launched Stand Off Missile (SOM) under development by the Defence Industries Research and Development Institute (SAGE), itself part of TÜBITAK, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey.

SOM is a 600kg cruise missile with a low-observable airframe and a 230kg warhead conceived for use against heavily defended targets on land and at sea. A typical target set might include SAM sites, parked aircraft, command centres, aircraft hangars and shelters. With a stated range of more than 100nm, it outranges SAM systems and its guidance system incorporates GPS and inertial sensors with radar, terrain referenced navigation, and an imaging IR seeker plus automatic target recognition capability and selectable impact modes. The weapon has been integrated onto the F-16 and future plans call for JSF integration and compatibility with the NATO Universal Armaments Interface (UAI).

TÜBITAK SAGE is working with government owned MKEK and foreign partners on a deep penetration bomb known as NEB, an 870kg weapon with the same general external geometry as a Mk 84 general purpose bomb but containing a shaped-charge precursor warhead that makes a hole in a hardened target through which the main warhead passes before detonating about a second later. Compatible with GBU-10E/B systems, it can use laser guidance kits for these weapons, as well as SAGE’s own new HGK precision guidance kit, which uses GPS, probably combined with an inertial sensor, to provide a claimed accuracy of 6.3 metres. Plans called for NEB design studies to be complete by the first quarter of 2012.

While NEB is a specialised weapon for hardened and buried targets, the KGK is a winged guidance kit designed to transform 500lbs Mk 82 and 1,000lbs Mk 83 general purpose bombs into smart glide bombs. SAGE claims an accuracy of 10m from the GPS/INS guidance system and maximum ranges between 20nm when dropped from 10,000ft and 60nm from 30,000 feet. The impact angle can be set between 10° and 80° to maximize the weapon’s effect on the target. The maximum allowable flight speed is 600 knots.

Turkish National Sonar

In the naval sector, the first two MILGEM national corvettes have been built by the Navy itself and the Turkish government is now reported to be in negotiation with RMK Marine for the construction of the next six vessels, having apparently beaten the rival Dearsan shipyard to the $2.5 billion deal, according to a report on 05 January in the Turkish media.

The 2,300t corvettes have mission systems focused on ASW, and TÜBITAK has developed three key sonar system ‘wet end’ components. The TBT-01 transducer operates as an active/passive sensor over the 6-9kHz frequency range and as a passive sensor between 2-10kHz. The second major acoustic sensor is a ship-integrated sonar with a 288 element cylindrical array. The third system is national transducer cable.

TÜBITAK also built the infrastructure required to develop the technology in the form of the Marmara Research Centre Materials Institute’s Underwater Acoustic Laboratory. Opened officially on 14 March 2008, the UAL received accreditation from Germany’s DAP agency in April 2009. The UAL features a 15x10x7.5m test tank with a very accurate positioning system that can support sensors and arrays weighing up to 3,000kg.

Satellites and MALE UAVs

On 18 December GÖKTÜRK 2, a Turkish designed imaging reconnaissance satellite went into orbit successfully from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in China. The TÜBITAK-funded spacecraft’s declared purpose it both military reconnaissance and civil environmental monitoring.

From its Sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of around 700km, the 409kg GÖKTÜRK 2 circles the Earth every 98 minutes approximately and can collect imagery from anywhere in the world, revisiting any site on average once every 2.5 days, according to Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), who designed, integrated and tested the satellite at its own facilities, carrying out bus assembly and integration, payload integration, mass property measurement, system level functional and thermal vacuum testing. The spacecraft’s sensors offer resolutions of 2.5m panchromatic and 5.0m multispectral. GÖKTÜRK 2’s planned operational life is five years.

Launch of the higher resolution GÖKTÜRK 1 spacecraft was scheduled for this year, but is reportedly subject to a delay of around a year as a result of a dispute with Israel, source of some sensor components.

GÖKTÜRK 1 is in development by prime contractor Telespazio following a 2009 contract between SSM and the Italian company. TAI is directly involved in work packages in Italy and France and is manufacturing some components in house.

On 25 January, the TAI-developed ANKA MALE UAS successfully completed its acceptance test campaign. This followed the final flights in the programme that took place between 20 and 22 January.

With a wingspan of 17.3m and a length of 8m, ANKA is powered by a 155hp heavy fuel engine to a service ceiling of 30,000ft with endurance of up to 24 hours. ANKA is intended for day and night, all-weather ISR missions carrying EO/IR cameras with laser designation and range finding capabilities plus SAR/ISAR/GMTI sensors. Growth potential includes SATCOM, SIGINT and communications relay payloads and the ability to send imagery and data to remote video terminals. Of the final two test flights, the first lasted more than 18 hours. TAI says that this flight successfully demonstrated the aircraft’s full endurance and the data link’s 200km range in wind speeds that reached 45 knots. The second and final flight test on 22 January demonstrated the night capability of its automatic take-off and landing system.

The acceptance campaign began in the last quarter of 2012 and encompassed about 130 different ground and flight tests, witnessed by SSM and Turkish Air Force representatives. ANKA first flew in December 2010 since when it has accumulated more than 140 flight hours.

TAI reports that contract negotiations are already underway with SSM for the production of an initial ten ANKA systems for the Air Force.

TAI also rolled out its HURKUS turboprop primary and basic training aircraft in June. The company is also working on the conceptual design of an advanced jet trainer and light fighter under a contract signed with SSM in August of 2011, while TAI’s helicopter group submitted its proposal to SSM for the ‘Indigenous Helicopter’, having been appointed prime contractor for the programme in 2010.

Without doubt, Turkey intends to be a major force in the defence industry and is making the investments needed to make desire into reality.

Peter Donaldson/Miltech

UMTAS sets the bar high for Turkey’s new weapons

The infrared spectrum (IR) seeker head developed by Turkish electronics powerhouse Aselsan for the UMTAS anti-tank missile.

Hardly a day passes without a Turkish defense company proudly announcing that it has designed, developed and produced a weapon system the country would normally buy off-the-shelf from a foreign supplier. The most recent  indigenously developed Turkish weapon  is an anti-tank missile, the UMTAS.

Turkish military officials are anxiously awaiting the first serial production and delivery of the UMTAS.

“After years of going from one foreign supplier to another, we are happy to have our companies providing us with national solutions,” a senior Army official said.

Procurement officials said the UMTAS has recently  undergone several successful field tests.

“This system can quickly find foreign buyers and mark an impressive transformation [of Turkey] from an import-dependent country into an exporting one,” one procurement official said. “It is relatively low-cost and reliable.”

State-owned missile maker Roketsan initiated the long-range anti-tank UMTAS missile project in efforts, first, to meet local demand from the Turkish Armed Forces, and later to export it, especially to countries in the region.

The UMTAS, with its infrared imaging and laser-seeker options, is an anti-tank missile with a range of  8 kilometers  to be used  in air-to-ground and  ground-to-ground operations.

Roketsan officials said the system  is going through further tests for technical properties and compatibility with environmental conditions. Thus far, the system has completed ballistic-missile tests and controlled-missile tests, and its sub-system design has been finished, they said.

The UMTAS  is considered the official anti-tank system for the T-129, the helicopter gunship Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is co-producing with Italian-British AgustaWestland in a US $3.2 billion project. It also can be integrated into  the Anka, Turkey’s first locally developed unmanned aircraft. Other potential platforms to be outfitted with the UMTAS are armored land vehicles and naval vessels.

Burak Bekdil

Syria’s neighbors irked by U.S.-led intervention

Syria’s neighbors, wary of stirring a conflict that could spill back over their borders, would be reluctant partners in a U.S.-led intervention but are ultimately likely to support limited military action if widespread use of chemical weapons is proven.

The White House disclosed U.S. intelligence on Thursday that Syria had likely used chemical weapons, a move President Barack Obama had said could trigger unspecified consequences, widely interpreted to include possible U.S. military action.

Syrian neighbors Jordan and Turkey, their support key in any such intervention, have long been vocal critics of Bashar al-Assad. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, an erstwhile ally of the Syrian President, was among the first to call openly for his overthrow while allowing armed opponents to use Turkish soil.

But their rhetoric has been tempered by the changing circumstances of a war that has dragged on beyond their expectations and grown increasingly sectarian, as well as by the suspicion they will be left bearing the consequences of any action orchestrated by Western powers thousands of miles away.

For Turkey’s leaders, facing elections next year, talk of chemical weapons is an uncomfortable reminder of the wave of anti-U.S. sentiment which followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, justified by intelligence on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that turned out to be erroneous.

Turkey, which shares a 900-km border with Syria, has reacted cautiously to the U.S. disclosure while Jordan, fearful of the growing influence of radical Islamists in the Syrian rebel ranks, has voiced its preference for a political solution.

“The international community, and especially the peoples of the Middle East, have lost confidence in any report which argues that there are weapons of mass destruction or chemical weapons,” said one source close to the Turkish government.

“Right now, no-one wants to believe them. And if Assad uses chemical weapons some day … I still think Turkey’s primary reaction would be asking for more support to the opposition rather than an intervention.”

Turkey’s rhetoric on Syria, at least in public, has toned down markedly over the past six months, even as shelling and gunfire spilled over the border and the influx of refugees to camps on its territory swelled to a quarter of a million.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s push for a foreign-protected “safe zone” inside Syria gained little traction among allies and appears to have quietly slipped from the agenda. Even Erdogan, whose speeches were regularly laced with bellicose anti-Assad rhetoric, mentions the conflict less frequently.

But many analysts believe both the pro-U.S. monarchy in Jordan and Erdogan’s government in Ankara would toe the line should Washington seek their cooperation in military action.

Turkey’s relations with Washington have at times been prickly – notably in 2003 when it failed to allow the deployment of U.S. forces to Turkey to open a northern front in the Iraq war – but strategic cooperation has generally remained strong.

Turkish support and bases proved vital, for example, to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, while Turkey hosts a U.S.-operated NATO radar system to protect against any regional threat from Iran.

“Given the texture of the current government’s relations with the U.S. and given the history of its discourse on Syria, I think it would be not impossible but rather difficult for Mr Erdogan not to oblige U.S. demands,” said Faruk Logoglu, former Turkish ambassador to Washington and vice chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party.

RELUCTANT PARTNERS

Although Obama has warned Syria that using chemical weapons against its own people would cross a “red line”, he has also made clear he is in no rush to intervene on the basis of evidence he said was still preliminary.

Syria denies using chemical weapons in the two-year-old conflict in which more than 70,000 people have been killed.

Mindful of the lessons of the start of the Iraq war, aides have insisted Obama will need all the facts before deciding what steps to take. But acknowledgment of the intelligence assessment appears to have moved the United States closer – at least rhetorically – to some sort of action, military or otherwise.

Turkey and Jordan would be key to any such move, but they may prove reluctant.

From the outset, Turkey has felt slighted.

Before the crisis, Erdogan cultivated a friendship with Assad, personal ties which he tried to use after the start of the uprising in March 2011 to persuade the Syrian leader to embrace reform and open dialogue. He was rebuffed.

When his strategy changed, he began calling for Assad’s removal and allowing the Syrian opposition to organize on Turkish soil. Ankara felt it gained praise from Washington and its allies but little in the way of concrete support.

“Turkey feels lonely in many senses,” the Turkish source said, saying that a military intervention now would leave Turkey and Syria’s other neighbors reeling from the consequences.

“There is always the risk of creating more destruction and creating a failed state in Syria … This thing is happening next door. The flames are reaching us, starting to burn us, where they can’t reach the United States, Qatar, or the UK.”

Jordan’s King Abdullah said last year Assad should step down, but the kingdom is increasingly concerned by the growing strength in Syrian rebel ranks of Islamist fighters who view the monarchy with just as much hostility as they do Assad.

Further fuelling those fears is the presence of fighters from the Nusra Front, which has declared its allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, among rebels who have taken territory across Syria’s southern province of Deraa, only 120 km (75 miles) from the Jordanian capital Amman.

Officials fear Syria has become a magnet for Islamist fighters who could one day turn their guns on Jordan – as Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi did during the sectarian conflict in neighboring Iraq. Zarqawi was widely believed to have been behind simultaneous attacks on Jordanian tourist hotels which killed dozens of people in November 2005.

SENSE OF URGENCY

Such fears could push the U.S. and its allies to act.

“The fact that the opposition is divided cuts both ways. It makes the logistics and even the politics of an intervention more difficult,” said Sinan Ulgen of the Istanbul-based Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM).

“But at the same time it reinforces the urgency of an intervention: the more the international community does not intervene in Syria, the more likely it is that the radical elements will gain the upper hand in a post-Assad Syria.”

Turkish officials and diplomats have expressed concern about the role Saudi Arabia may be playing in providing weapons which are going to the hands of radical Islamist elements among the Syrian rebel ranks.

U.S. intelligence agencies believes Assad’s forces may have used the nerve agent sarin on a small scale against rebel fighters. The fear is that an increasingly desperate Assad may use such weapons more widely the longer the conflict drags on.

An attack like that on the Iraqi Kurdish city of Halabja – where an estimated 5,000 people died in a poison gas attack ordered by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein 25 years ago, the most notorious use of chemical weapons in the Middle East in recent history – could sway public opinion in the region.

“A major chemical attack would outrage the Arab and Muslim street … It would be difficult just to watch, then everyone would intervene,” said retired Jordanian air force general Mamoun Abu Nowar.

The role Turkey or Jordan would play in any military action will depend on Washington’s strategy, but logistical support for limited missile strikes or possible assistance in enforcing the sort of no-fly zone long advocated by Turkey appear more likely than sending in ground troops.

Turkey is home to NATO’s second-largest army and to the Incirlik Air base, which provided logistical support for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is already hosting hundreds of U.S. soldiers operating part of a NATO Patriot missile system to defend against possible Syrian attack.

Washington meanwhile announced last week it was sending an army headquarters unit – which could theoretically command combat troops – to Jordan, bolstering efforts started last year to plan for contingencies there as Syria’s conflict deepens.

“A surgical strike to get the stocks of chemical weapons … or establishing air superiority through a number of strikes against Syrian air defenses, this is the type of scenario being contemplated in Turkey,” said EDAM’s Ulgen.

“Anything beyond that is much more difficult to see.”

Navy, MIT join forces for new intelligence vessel

Turkey’s first large dedicated electronic intelligence ship will be jointly operated by MIT and the Turkish Navy.

Turkey’s navy and national intelligence organization MIT have agreed to jointly procure a high-tech ship for collecting electronic intelligence from newly arising regional threats in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkish Undersecretariat for Defence Industries, or SSM, has been tasked for launching a local tender for the construction of the new ship using Turkey’s indigenous capabilities to their fullest extent.

“Turkey has earmarked $120 million for the construction effort of Turkey’s first large scale intelligence ship.” a TR Defence source familiar with the programs of the Turkish Navy reported on Friday. “This will be a dedicated SIGINT/ELINT ship that will bear a number of advanced electronic capabilities, but will lack heavy weapons.”

Several countries currently use similar electronic intelligence ships for spying on the military transmissions of target states, finding and exploiting secret radar installations, eavesdropping on and decrypting sensitive information as well as actively jamming compromised enemy communications during war time. The ship is said to be used in conjunction with Turkey’s new Gokturk series of surveillance satellites planned for launch in 2013 and 2014.

Project will be managed by SSM and follow the successful footsteps of the Milgem program. Once complete in 2015, the ship will join Turkish Navy inventory but will be partially operated by MIT in line with Turkey’s widely varying intelligence gathering needs.

It is also expected to actively participate in NATO missions and exercises around the world.

 

Turkey hits targets inside Syria after border deaths

Turkish artillery has fired on targets in Syria after shells from across the border killed five Turkish nationals.

A woman and three children were among the dead when the shells, apparently fired by Syrian government forces, hit Turkey’s border town of Akcakale.

Ankara’s response marks the first time it has fired into Syria during the 18-month-long unrest there.

Turkey also asked the UN Security Council to take “necessary action” to stop Syrian “aggression”.

The request was made by Turkish envoy to the UN, Ertugrul Apakan, in a letter to the current president of the 15-member Council, Guatemalan ambassador Gert Rosenthal.

Meanwhile, Nato envoys held an urgent meeting in Brussels at the request of Turkey, who is a member of the military alliance.

The bloc issued a statement saying it “continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law”.

The Nato ambassadors also expressed appreciation for Turkey’s restraint in its response, the BBC’s defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt reports.

At the same time, the government in Ankara is expected to ask the parliament on Thursday to authorise cross-border military operations in Syria, Turkish media report.

The Turkish armed forces have in the past moved into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish militants who had bases there.

‘Abominable attack’

Turkey’s territory has been hit by fire from Syria on several occasions since the uprising against Mr Assad began, but Wednesday’s incident was the most serious.

In a statement, the office of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “Our armed forces in the border region responded immediately to this abominable attack in line with their rules of engagement.”

Targets were struck through artillery fire against places in Syria identified by radar.

“Turkey will never leave unanswered such kinds of provocation by the Syrian regime against our national security,” the statement said.

Syria said it was looking into the origin of the cross-border shelling that hit Akcakale.

Information Minister Omran Zoabi added: “Syria offers its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to our friends the Turkish people.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu contacted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the UN’s Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen after the incident.

Mr Ban urged Damascus to respect the territorial sovereignty of its neighbours, saying the cross-border incident “demonstrated how Syria’s conflict is threatening not only the security of the Syrian people but increasingly causing harm to its neighbours”.

Mr Rasmussen told Turkey’s foreign minister that he strongly condemned the incident, a Nato spokeswoman said, and continued to follow developments in the region “closely and with great concern”.

Mr Rasmussen has repeatedly said that Nato has no intention of intervening in Syria but stands ready to defend Turkey if necessary.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “We are outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across their border… and regretful of the loss of life on the Turkish side.”

Akcakale has been fired on several times over the past few weeks.

The BBC’s Jim Muir says Syrian government forces are attempting to cut rebel supply routes by winning back the border crossing at Tall al-Abyad which the rebels seized last month.

Residents have been advised to stay away from the border, and more than 100 schools have been closed in the region because of the violence in neighbouring Syria.

Panic

Turkey’s state-owned Anatolia news agency reported that angry townspeople had marched to the mayor’s office to protest about the deaths on Wednesday.

Town mayor Abdulhakim Ayhan said: “There is anger in our community against Syria,” adding that stray bullets and shells had panicked residents over the past 10 days.

Wednesday’s attack is believed to be only the second time that people have died as a result of violence spilling over the border from Syria into Turkey.

Two Syrian nationals were killed on Turkish soil in April by stray bullets fired from Syria.

In Syria itself, at least 34 people were killed and dozens wounded in a series of bomb explosions in the centre of Syria’s second city, Aleppo, on Wednesday.

The attacks levelled buildings in the city’s main square. A military officers’ club and a hotel being used by the military bore the brunt of the blasts, some of which were carried out by suicide car bombers.

BBC

Free Syrian Army HQ Relocated to Syria

After reports of several Free Syrian Army commencements on the field, alongside an ever increasing death toll of civilians being slaughtered by the Assad regime, the Free Syrian Army has announced that it will be moving its headquarters from Turkey to what it defines as “liberated areas” within Syria.

In a video posted on YouTube, a leading figure of the FSA, the defected General Riad al-Asad announced that this move has been undertaken to “unite all rebel groups” and to fight “side by side with all brigades and factions” operating in Syria, until the Assad regime is removed. The FSA, a structure controlling the independent brigades and groups made up of defectors from the Syrian Armed Forces, aims to achieve a greater coordination with such a move and focus on exerting pressure to the heart of the regime in Damascus.

USAK researcher and Middle East specialist Ali Hussein Bakeer commented on the developments characterizing the FSA’s move as a “progress” and adding that this was a “necessary step” in the current conjuncture. He also added that the Syrian political opposition currently also residing in Turkey should join the military leaders and relocate inside Syria. According to Bakeer, the political opposition should move to liberated areas and take on a role helping attend the administrative management of these areas. Currently the public services within these liberated areas such as courts or hospitals are being conducted by the FSA. According to the USAK expert, FSA doesn’t have the capability to manage such facilities. Therefore the support of the political opposition could help the FSA concentrate its resources on military activities instead.

With regards to possible consequences for Turkey, the Middle East specialist also indicated that the FSA’s relocation to Syria could help alleviate the political pressure and focus on Turkey. Many Assad supporters have charged Turkey of housing terrorists inside its borders due to Turkey opening its borders to the FSA. This move could help shift the focus off Turkey, Bakeer notes.

By Burc Kostem, JTW

The Specter of Syrian Chemical Weapons

By Scott Stewart

The unraveling of the al Assad regime in Syria will produce many geopolitical  consequences. One potential consequence has garnered a great deal of media  attention in recent days: the possibility of the regime losing control of its  chemical weapons stockpile. In an interview aired July 30 on CNN, U.S. Secretary  of Defense Leon Panetta said it would be a “disaster to have those chemical  weapons fall into the wrong hands — hands of Hezbollah or other extremists in  that area.” When he mentioned other extremists, Panetta was referring to local and transnational  jihadists, such as members of the group Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been  fighting with other opposition forces against the Syrian regime. He was also  referring to the many Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and the Popular  Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which have long had a  presence in Syria and until recently have been supported by the al Assad  regime.

The fear is that the jihadists will obtain chemical weapons to use in  terrorist attacks against the West. Israel is also concerned that Palestinian  groups could use them in terrorist attacks inside Israel or that Hezbollah could  use such weapons against the Israelis in a conventional military battle.  However, while the security of these weapons is a legitimate concern, it is  important to recognize that there are a number of technical and practical  considerations that will limit the impact of these weapons even if a militant  group were able to obtain them.

Militant Use of Chemical Weapons

Militant groups have long had a fascination with chemical weapons. One of the  largest non-state chemical and biological weapons programs in history belonged  to the Aum Shinrikyo  organization in Japan. The group had large production facilities located in  an industrial park that it used to produce thousands of gallons of ineffective  biological agents. After the failure of its biological program, it shifted its  focus to chemical weapons production and conducted a number of attacks using  chemical agents such as hydrogen cyanide gas, phosgene and VX and sarin nerve  agents.

Jihadists have also demonstrated an interest in chemical weapons. The  investigation of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing found that bombmaker Abdul  Basit (aka Ramzi Yousef) had added sodium cyanide to the large vehicle-borne  improvised explosive device detonated in the Trade Center’s basement parking  garage. The cyanide was either consumed or so widely scattered by the huge blast  that its effects were not noticed at the time of the attack. The presence of the  cyanide was only uncovered after investigators found a list of the chemicals  ordered by conspirator Nidal Ayyad and debriefed Basit after his arrest.

In his testimony at his 2001 trial for the Millennium Bomb plot, Ahmed Ressam  described training he had received at al Qaeda’s Deronta facility in Afghanistan  for building a hydrogen cyanide device. Ressam said members of the group had  practiced their skills, using the gas to kill a dog that was confined in a small  box.

Videos found by U.S. troops after the invasion of Afghanistan supported  Ressam’s testimony — as did confiscated al Qaeda training manuals that  contained recipes for biological toxins and chemical agents, including hydrogen  cyanide gas. The documents recovered in Afghanistan prompted the CIA to  publish a report on al Qaeda’s chemical and biological weapons program that  created a lot of chatter in late 2004.

There have been other examples as well. In February 2002, Italian authorities  arrested several Moroccan men who were found with about 4 kilograms (9 pounds)  of potassium ferrocyanide and allegedly were planning to attack the U.S. Embassy  in Rome.

In June 2006, Time magazine broke the story of an alleged  al Qaeda plot to attack subways in the United States using improvised  devices designed to generate hydrogen cyanide gas. The plot was reportedly  aborted because the al Qaeda leadership feared it would be ineffective.

In 2007, jihadist militants deployed a series of large  vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices augmented with chlorine gas  against targets in Iraq. However, the explosives in these attacks inflicted far  more casualties than the gas. This caused the militants to deem the addition of  chlorine to the devices as not worth the effort, and the Iraqi jihadists  abandoned their chemical warfare experiment in favor of employing vehicle-borne  improvised explosive devices without a chemical kicker.

There have also been several credible reports in Iraq of militants using  chemical artillery rounds in improvised explosive device attacks against  coalition forces, but those attacks also appear to have been largely  ineffective.

Difficult to Employ

Using chemical munitions on the battlefield presents a number of challenges.  The first of these is sufficiently concentrating the chemical agent to affect  the targeted troops. In order to achieve heavy concentrations of the agent,  chemical weapon attacks were usually delivered by a massive artillery  bombardment using chemical weapons shells. Soviet military chemical weapons  doctrine relied heavily on weapons systems such as batteries of BM-21 multiple  rocket launchers, which can be used to deliver a massive amount of ordnance to a  targeted area. Additionally, it is very difficult to control the gas cloud  created by the massive barrage. There were instances in World War I and in the  Iran-Iraq War in which troops were affected by chemical weapon clouds that had  been created by their own artillery but had blown back upon them.

Delivering a lethal dose is also a problem in employing chemical weapons in  terrorist attacks, as seen by the attacks outlined above. For example, in the  March 20, 1995, attack on the Tokyo subway system, Aum Shinrikyo members  punctured 11 plastic bags filled with sarin on five different subway trains.  Despite the typically very heavy crowds on the trains and in the Tokyo subway  stations that morning, the attacks resulted in only 12 deaths — although  thousands of other commuters were sickened by the attack, some severely.

The Syrian regime is thought to have mustard gas as well as tabun, sarin  and VX nerve agents in its chemical weapons inventory. Mustard gas, a blistering  agent, is the least dangerous of these compounds. In World War I, less than 5  percent of the troops who were exposed to mustard gas died. Tabun and sarin tend  to be deployed in a volatile liquid form that evaporates to form a gas. Once in  gas form, these agents tend to dissipate somewhat quickly. VX, on the other  hand, a viscous nerve agent, was developed to persist in an area after it is  delivered in order to prevent an enemy force from massing in or passing through  that area. While VX is more persistent, it is more difficult to cause a mass  casualty attack with it since droplets of the liquid agent must come into  contact with the victim, unlike other agents that evaporate to form a large  cloud.

But there are other difficulties besides delivering a lethal dose. Because of  improvements in security measures and intelligence programs since 9/11, it has  proved very difficult for jihadists to conduct attacks in the West, even when  their attack plans have included using locally manufactured explosives. There  have been numerous cases in which plots have either failed, like the May  2010 Times Square attack involving Faisal Shahzad, or been detected and  thwarted, like the September  2009 plot to attack the New York subway system involving Najibullah  Zazi.

Because of the improved security, it would be very difficult for jihadists to  smuggle chemical agents into the United States or Europe, even if they were able  to obtain them. Indeed, as mentioned above, the chemical artillery rounds used  in improvised explosive devices in Iraq were employed in that country, not  smuggled out of the region.

This means that jihadists not only face the tactical problem of effectively  employing the agent in an attack but also the logistical problem of transporting  it to the West. This difficulty of transport will increase further as awareness  of the threat increases. One way around the logistical problem would be to use  the agent against a soft target  in the region. Such targets could include hotels, tourist sites, airport  arrival lounges or even Western airliners departing from airports with less than  optimal security.

Another option for jihadists or Palestinian militants could be to attempt to  smuggle the chemical agent into Israel for use in an attack. However, in recent  years, increased security measures following past suicide bombing attacks in  Israel have caused problems for militant groups smuggling weapons into Israel.  The same problems would apply to chemical agents — especially since border  security has already been stepped up again due to the increased flow of weapons  from Libya to Gaza.

Militants could attempt to solve this logistical challenge by launching a  warhead or a barrage of warheads into Israel using rockets, but such militant  rocket fire tends to be very inaccurate and, like conventional rocket warheads,  these chemical warheads would be unlikely to hit any target of value. Even if a  rocket landed in a populated area, it would be unlikely to produce many  casualties due to the problem of creating a lethal concentration of the agent —  although it would certainly cause a mass panic.

The use of chemical weapons would also undoubtedly spur Israel to retaliate  heavily in order to deter additional attacks. This threat of massive retaliation  has kept Syria from using chemical weapons against Israel or allowing its  militant proxies to use them.

Hezbollah may be the militant organization in the region that could most  effectively utilize Syrian chemical munitions. The group possesses a large  inventory of artillery rockets, which could be used to deliver the type of  barrage attack required for a successful chemical weapon attack. Rumors have  been swirling around the region for many months that Libyan rebels sold some  chemical munitions to Hezbollah and Hamas. While we have seen confirmed reports  that man-portable air-defense systems and other Libyan weapons are being  smuggled into Sinai en route to Gaza, there has been no confirmation that  chemical rounds are being smuggled out of Libya.

Still, even if Hezbollah were to receive a stockpile of chemical munitions  from Syria or Libya, it has a great deal to lose by employing such munitions.  First, it would have to face the aforementioned massive retaliation from Israel.  While Israel was somewhat constrained in its attacks on Hezbollah’s leadership  and infrastructure in the August 2006 war, it is unlikely to be nearly as  constrained in responding to a chemical weapon attack on its armed forces or a  population center. Because of the way chemical weapons are viewed, the Israelis  would be seen internationally as having just cause for massive retaliation.  Second, Hezbollah would face severe international repercussions over any such  attack. As an organization, Hezbollah has been working for many years to  establish itself as a legitimate political party in Lebanon and avoid being  labeled as a terrorist organization in Europe and elsewhere. A chemical weapon  attack would bring heavy international condemnation and would not be in the  group’s best interest at this time.

So, while securing Syrian chemical munitions is an imperative, there are  tactical and practical constraints that will prevent militants from creating the  type of nightmare scenario discussed in the media, even if some chemical weapons  fell into the wrong hands.

Stratfor

2016: Turkey’s defense purchases to reach $8 billion

Turkey will buy around 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II aircraft. EPA photo

Turkey will spend up to $8 billion in defense purchases as its exports will reach $2 billion in 2016, four years from now, according to a major estimation by the procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM).

The present figures are around half of that.

The expectations in the SSM’s updated 2012-2016 strategic program are realistic given the money Turkey would pay for expensive systems – such as the F-35s or the U-214 submarines from Germany – over the next few years, as well as the rapid increase in its exports mainly to Islamic countries, according to one defense analyst.

Turkey is in talks with four key foreign suppliers on a $4 billion Long Range Air and Missile Defense Systems project.

The country’s mainly exports armored vehicles of many sorts, rockets and other ammunition, as well as military electronics like radios, to more than 10 Islamic countries. It also sells aviation equipment as part of offset deals.

Fighter jet program delayed

Separately, Turkey has delayed a program to develop a domestic fighter aircraft for the Air Force nearly two years, the strategic document has revealed. “A conceptual design … for the fighter aircraft will be completed by the end of 2014,” the SSM’s program said.

The defense minister at the time, Vecdi Gönül, announced on Dec. 14, 2010, that Turkey would build a fighter aircraft, to be constructed together with a friendly country or fully by itself, by the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic in 2023.

Gönül told reporters after a meeting of the Defense Industry Executive Committee that the SSM would start talks with the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), the country’s main aerospace company, for a “conceptual design” of a fighter aircraft and a jet trainer to be built after the year 2020.

At the time, Gönül said the TAI would have two years for the conceptual design. He said Turkey’s newly designed fighter aircraft “would be a next-generation type, replacing the [U.S.-made] F-4Es and functioning well with the F-16 and the F-35 … This is effectively a decision for the making of Turkey’s first fighter aircraft.”

However, the new strategic document calls for the completion of the conceptual design by 2014. “The original timetable must be wrong. It’s impossible to complete the conceptual design of a new aircraft in two years. The estimate is more reasonable now,” said one senior procurement official.

Turkey will buy around 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II aircraft built by a team led by the U.S. firm Lockheed Martin, but Gönül said at the time that they were planning to develop the new fighter with a partner other than the United States.

Turkey previously had South Korea in mind, but one South Korean official in Ankara said South Korea was at a more advanced stage than Turkey, and was currently developing its KF-X model with Indonesia. “We can’t say at this point whether it will be with South Korea or not,” Gönül said.

Syria: Rebels Seize Border Crossings with Turkey, Iraq

Syrian rebels took control of two major crossings on the border with Turkey and the main Abu Kamal post on the border with Iraq.

Syrian rebels took control of two major crossings on the border with Turkey and the main Abu Kamal post on the border with Iraq on Thursday, the first time opponents of President Bashar al-Assad have seized posts on the country’s frontiers.

Hakim al-Zamili, head of the security and defence committee in the Iraqi parliament, told a local television station that rebels were in control of the Abu Kamal border crossing, on the Damascus-Baghdad highway and one of the most important trade routes in the Middle East.

A Syrian rebel fighter and a opposition spokesman said fighters seized control of the customs and immigration buildings on the Syrian side of the northern Turkish frontier gate of Bab al-Hawa and activists said the Jarablus crossing also fell into rebel hands.

Rebels have tried to seize Bab al-Hawa, a vital commercial crossing, for 10 days but managed to oust soldiers after heavy fighting on Thursday, the rebel said.

Footage that activists said was filmed at Bab al-Hawa showed rebels climbing onto the roofs of buildings at the crossing and tearing up a poster of Assad.

“The army withdrew,” a rebel fighter who would only be identified as Abu Ali told Reuters on the Turkish side of the border, where he was being treated for wounds. “The crossing is under our control – they withdrew their armoured vehicles.”

Ahmad Zaidan, spokesman for an opposition group called the Higher Council of the Revolution’s Leadership, said rebels were already in charge of large areas around the border crossing.

The reported seizure of Bab al-Hawa, opposite the Turkish Cilvegozu gate in Hatay province, comes after the rebels said they were forced to withdraw earlier on Thursday after they attacked the gate, guarded by some 200 troops, but had to pull back when government helicopters were called in.

The raid was also meant to provide an opportunity for opposition sympathisers among the government soldiers to defect.

The rebels had planned for 80 soldiers to defect but only 14 managed to escape, Zaidan said. Most defections, he said, were pre-planned and sympathetic soldiers would know of an impending rebel attack.

The border crossing was closed after the attack and around 40 Syrian and Saudi trucks lined up on the Turkish side were unable to cross.

While cross-border trade and traffic has been greatly reduced as violence inside Syria has increased, border gates along the 910-km (560-mile) Turkey-Syria border have largely remained open and vehicles have been free to cross.

At Jarablus, 400 km (250 miles) northwest of Damascus, activists said military and intelligence personnel pulled out from the nearby border town of Ain al-Arab, inhabited by members of Syria’s Kurdish minority.

In neighbouring Iraq, Zamili urged the Iraqi government to send extra troops to the border, al-Iraqiya television said.

Iraq said earlier this month it had reinforced security along its 680 km (420 miles) desert border with Syria, making it Iraq’s most heavily guarded frontier.

A local police official at the Sinjar border crossing in northern Iraq said it was still under Syrian government army control: “We have heard no shooting, nothing has changed.”

The border raids came as rebels clashed with troops loyal to Assad in Damascus and a day after a bomb attack on a security meeting in the Syrian capital killed three of the president’s closest allies.

Turkey, which has called on Assad to step down, is giving sanctuary to opposition members and fighters on its soil and is providing shelter to more than 40,000 Syrian refugees fleeing violence at home.

WB