Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin broke with the Obama administration on Syria Wednesday by calling for buffer and no-fly zones near the Turkish border. The buffer zone would protect civilians, Syrian rebels, and Kurds against ISIS assaults. The no-fly zone would stop Bashar al-Assad’s air force from bombing them while they fight ISIS on the ground.
“We should seek to establish a delineated buffer zone along the Turkish border in order to protect civilians, a zone which would be secured by Turkish boots on the ground, if Turkey is willing, protected by a coalition no-fly zone,” Levin said Wednesday morning at the United States Institute of Peace. “Both things will be necessary, for Turkey to consider Turkish boots on the ground inside Syria along that border, there must be a no-fly zone to protect that buffer zone… and we should seek to do that.”
This is not the first time Levin has called for a no-fly zone in Syria. In March of 2013, Levin endorsed the idea of a no-fly zone and airstrikes against the Assad regime. But that was before the Obama administration made a deal with Assad promising no airstrikes against his forces in exchange for Syria turning over its chemical weapons stockpiles.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Levin said the no-fly zone along the Turkish border makes more sense at this stage of the conflict, because the U.S. is already engaged militarily in Syria. He also said Turkey’s buy-in would be crucial because coalition forces would need to use Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base to enforce the no-fly zone.
“That base is important because if there’s going to be a no-fly zone, that base would be the closest staging ground,” said Levin. “Now we’ve already had our aircraft in Syrian airspace, so it’s not breaking new ground."
National Security Advisor Susan Rice had said Sunday on Meet the Press that Turkey had agreed to let its bases be used in the fight against ISIS, a claim that was denied by several senior Turkish officials.
“They have said that their facilities inside of Turkey can be used by the coalition forces, American and otherwise, to engage in activities inside of Iraq and Syria. That’s the new commitment, and one that we very much welcome,” said Rice.
“There is no decision at the moment concerning Incirlik or any other issue,” Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the next day. Turkey has publicly called for a no-fly zone and for airstrikes against the Assad regime.
In Paris on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that the U.S. and Turkey were on the same page.
“[Turkey] certainly has allowed the use of certain facilities, and we don’t need to get into specifics except to say that I don’t believe there is any discrepancy with respect to what they will or won’t do,” he said.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that there was still no formal agreement between the U.S. and Turkey over using Turkish bases in the fight against ISIS.
“This issue of military bases in Turkey is an issue that continues to be discussed between American officials and Turkish officials,” he said.
Levin said lawmakers had not yet been briefed on the issue and were puzzled by Rice’s remarks.
“I don’t know why she said what she said,” he said. “We’re trying to find out what the basis for that was.”
Levin also said in his Wednesday remarks that Congress should vote on whether to authorize the president to use force in Iraq and Syria when lawmakers return to Washington for the post-election lame duck session. He maintained that the President has the ability legally to act if Congress doesn’t vote, under Article II of the Constitution.
“There is a real risk that the area that ISIS controls can become a training ground and a launching pad for attacks against the United States and our friends and our allies,” Levin said. “We have a unique opportunity to build at this crucial moment in history to bring the world together to confront a common violent enemy.”